5 min read

Three Ways RFID Can Save Hospitals in 2023

RFID technology is becoming increasingly popular with organizations that want to increase efficiency and visibility relative to equipment, supplies, and personnel.

 

Hospitals have been slower to adopt RFID than other industries, but this is likely to change in 2023. The financial pressures that many hospitals face in the post-COVID economy are driving organizations to improve efficiencies and lower costs. RFID checks all those boxes.

 

RFID can be used to track assets and supplies, monitor equipment usage and maintenance, and even provide real-time location data for medical personnel and patients. RFID tags are especially useful for monitoring high-value items such as medical and surgical instruments, beds, wheelchairs and medical carts.  RFID can also be a significant driver of cost savings. COVID supply shortages forced many organizations to over-order. Keeping inventories up to date manually takes clinicians away from patients. It's a lose-lose. How many dollars worth of expired medicines have you been forced to throw out this year?  

We’ve compiled some of our favorite use cases for RFID usage in hospitals, along with the results these hospitals achieved. Read on to learn more.

Use Case #1: Supply Chain Inventory Tracking and Management

Subject: Adventist Health White Memorial, Los Angeles, CA

RFID technology offers hospitals a wide range of benefits over traditional barcode tracking. These include real-time location data, improved inventory management, and cost savings. By leveraging RFID technology in their operations, hospitals can ensure that medical personnel always have quick access to the right tools and spend less manual time counting and ordering supplies.

Adventist Health White Memorial (AHWM) is a 353-bed non-profit teaching hospital. Before implementing RFID technology, AHWM was using manual processes to track inventory. This resulted in a lack of visibility into the supply chain process, inaccurate inventory levels, and inefficient supply ordering.

AHWM’s cost drivers:

  • Wasted (expired) product – amounting to almost $200k/yr
  • Time-intensive manual inventory management
  • Filling out paper requisitions for supplies
  • Distribution of products without charge codes – i.e., for free
  • Searching for products
  • Running out of products, and having to substitute with higher-cost products

AHWM conducted a one-year trial of an RFID-enabled inventory management system and smart carts in its cardiovascular department. Because of the emergent nature of their workflows, it is notoriously difficult to manage inventory in cardiovascular teams. No one has time to push buttons and scan tags. They need to grab and go. If the team could make RFID work here – it could work anywhere.

These measures were the backbone of their new inventory management process:

  • RFID tags, barcodes, and scanners
  • Smart cabinets in each room that can take their own inventory
  • New equipment is RFID tagged and barcoded as soon as it arrives at the hospital
  • Product is tagged as used by waving it in front of a scanner – this fast, one-handed workflow was perfect for the cardiovascular team
  • Alerts notify the staff to locate product that has been removed from a cabinet but not scanned. The RFID tag lets them know exactly which room the product was removed from

AHWM’s RESULTS

At the end of the one-year trial, AHWM found that they had saved an average of 25 minutes per day due to their improved inventory management system. Furthermore, they were able to always ensure quick access to the right supplies, as well as reduce instances of misplaced and expired supplies. The cost savings from these measures amounted to $213,000 per year.

AHWM’s successful implementation of RFID technology shows just how beneficial it can be for hospitals looking to improve their inventory management systems. Other hospitals should consider this technology as an effective and cost-saving solution for improving efficiency and safety.

Use Case #2: Equipment Tracking and Identification

Subject: Wake Forest Baptist Health, Winston-Salem, NC

Hospitals regularly move medical equipment around their facilities or when transporting patients to other locations. This equipment – hospital beds, wheelchairs, workstations on wheels, infusion pumps, and portable testing machines – are high-value assets that often go missing, are misplaced, or get hoarded by staff in case of emergencies.

Considering the high cost of replacement, tracking the location of equipment has become a primary RFID application in hospitals.

It’s also fascinating to look at the cost of equipment compared to the cost of your clinicians’ time. Take wheelchairs, for example. If you have a team of just 7 clinicians, and once a week each one of them spends just 20 minutes looking for a wheelchair, the cost of their time searching for wheelchairs comes to nearly $7,000/yr. A basic transport chair costs about $200. With the full data at hand, it’s easier to make cost-effective purchasing decisions.

Some of the primary benefits:

  • Identify equipment in real-time
  • Save time searching for specific items
  • Quickly find small items like needles and knives that can be easily misplaced
  • Track the history of a piece of equipment. This is helpful for conducting maintenance, software updates, etc.

Wake Forest Baptist Health is a NC-based hospital that services more than 1 million patients a year. They have more than 17,000 pieces of medical equipment stored in over 40 buildings spanning 4 million square feet. The possibility for equipment to be misplaced, and to waste considerable amounts of time finding it, was immense.

Understanding the value an RFID system could bring them, Wake Forest made it a priority to track the movement of mobile medical equipment in real-time. They implemented both RFID and RTLS technology.

According to Senior Vice President Conrad Emmerich, “Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) helps us understand the true asset utilization of our medical equipment and make sound business decisions.” Automated, real-time asset tracking made it easier for the staff at Wake Forest to locate mobile equipment and eliminate staff time searching for it.

WAKE FOREST’S RESULTS

  • Real-time tracking of over 17,000 pieces of equipment
  • In year 1, Wake Forest saved over 10,000 staff hours ($300,000/yr) by reducing unproductive staff time
  • Wake Forest saved $3.5M in replacement equipment purchases and rental expenses
  • Thousands of hours of clinician time have been refocused on patient care

Use Case #3: Patient Identification

Subject: Adventist Health White Memorial, Los Angeles, CA

RFID technology is also being used to identify and track patients in hospital settings. Here are just some of the benefits and applications:

  • Reduce misidentification errors
  • Improve the reliability and recency of patients' medical data
  • Coordinate care across departments
  • Reduce OR turnaround time
  • Track patient location in real-time

Operating rooms are always a focus of attention for hospitals as they account for a significant percentage of overall expenses AND revenue.

When Adventist Health White Memorial (AHWM) reviewed its OR data, the staff recognized that OR turnaround times were reducing overall surgical capacity, and that was impacting revenue, wait times, and patient satisfaction. Manual data entry and delays or gaps in communication were big contributors.

AHWM has been able to improve operating room turnaround time by combining RFID tags with a Real-Time Location System (RTLS), OR workflow management, and mobile communications. They focused on surgery start and wait times and used the data they collected on patients to identify ‘clogs’ in their system.

These measures allow the hospital staff to locate a patient at all times:

  • Each patient receives an RFID-chipped wristband upon check-in
  • Patient wristbands send updates to the RTLS system every 2-3 seconds
  • Sensors in rooms and hallways detect patient movement

Additionally, the system is programmed to notify staff that a patient has waited a longer-than-acceptable time by changing that patient’s avatar color. This gives the staff the ability to quickly identify people experiencing a delay and ask for help from other departments.

Beyond helping clinical staff focus on patient care, it can also help support staff – such as by alerting housekeeping that an OR is ready for cleaning or sending a text to an admissions staffer to let them know there are patients waiting to be assisted to their vehicles.

AHWM’S RESULTS:

  • Reduced average OR turnaround time by 3 minutes. This ‘small’ change saved an estimated $970k/yr
  • The reporting available through the new system helped better predict patient flow and staffing needs, identifying nearly $500k of savings in staffing expense
  • Patient satisfaction scores increased from ‘Low’ to 90%
  • Reduced wait times by 30 minutes

RFID technology has revolutionized supply chain management in hospitals by providing better accuracy and organization. It also allows staff to focus on patient safety and satisfaction while reducing operational costs. With a streamlined supply chain process, hospitals can now spend more time and resources on patient care. How will you be using RFID in 2023?

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