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Source tagging gains steam in healthcare

In order for RFID to firmly take hold in the retail sector, it’s imperative that products are tagged at the point of manufacture. Source tagging is becoming more common in apparel retailing as big retailers issue mandates to manufactures and as brands realize that they can benefit from tagging all products as opposed to partial lots.

Source tagging is also spreading to the healthcare and medical sectors. Burlington Medical Supplies is tagging medical radiation vests and aprons during the manufacturing process and has shipped more than 40,000 source-tagged products since Q4 of 2012.

The word out of last week’s Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference is that medical device and pharmaceutical manufactures are warming up to source tagging demands from healthcare providers.

Nancy Baer, the director of strategic projects in information technology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, says that the hospital now requires some manufacturers to affix RFID tags to products like infusion pain pumps.

“We’re actually offsetting some of the costs of the tags to the manufacturers and vendors supplying the equipment,” Baer said during a panel discussion at HIMSS hosted by the Intelligent Hospital Pavilion.

Mount Sinai Hospital has tagged more than 15,000 assets including hospital beds, pain pumps, heart monitors and wheel chairs. The issue of source tagging arose after the hospital had difficulty tagging pain pumps because the tags wouldn’t fit properly on the actual devices.

“We have over 1,000 PCA pumps with narcotics in them that are encased in a lucite box,” says Baer, who is also vice president of membership for the RFID in Healthcare Consortium. “We had assurances from clinical engineering that the pumps stay inside the boxes, so we dangled the tags from the outside of the box. The next morning we found all the empty boxes, but we couldn’t find the pain pumps.”

Since the tags did not fit inside the original box, Mount Sinai worked with the device vendor to re-design a custom box so the tag would stay with the device. At the same time, source tagging was introduced to the vendor.

“If they want to do business with us [they are source tagging],” says Baer.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is rolling out a $543 million RTLS solution to support VA healthcare facilities across the nation, say that manufacturers are already beginning to apply RFID tags to their products before they are shipped to the VA, which greatly simplifies the receiving process.

In addition, high-value supplies are easier to access and staff can gain visibility into inventory and see all items that are stored, removed, returned, and nearing expiration. By running more meaningful reports, medical staff can gain insight into usage, ideal par levels, supply chain efficiencies, procedure-specific cost, and doctor preferences.

The VA is deploying WaveMark’s RFID-enabled storage cabinets at 70 hospital catheterization labs across its provider network over the next five years. The WaveMark solution is already being used to track supplies at the cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology labs at VA facilities in Ann Arbor and Detroit.

“The VA staff in our cardiac catheterization laboratories and in logistics are enthusiastically adopting the new system,” says Jacob Bender, VA’s RTLS healthcare technology manager for VISN 11. “We have begun to identify opportunities for improvement in our cath lab supply chain and we are finding new ways to optimize the delivery of veterans healthcare through high-frequency RFID equipment and intelligent software.”

Further evidence exists that tagging is being pushed downstream to the supplier. Pharmacies that have deployed RFID-enabled medicine cabinets like those offered by MEPS Real-Time, Inc., initially tagged drugs at their facilities before they were placed in the cabinets.

However, Jay Williams, vice president of marketing and business development at MEPS, says that pharmacists are quickly pushing the tagging process downstream to drug distributors and wholesalers. Distributors recognize that managing inventory and par levels for their clients is an important value add. Williams says that some of those distributors are already asking manufacturers to tag product at the source before it arrives at their distribution facilities.

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