RFID-Getting to the Heart of the Matter

RFID-enabled cabinets help hospitals stay on top of inventory.

The hospital is a busy place. As practitioners focus on providing top-notch care to several patients per day, the last thing they need is for inventory problems to distract them or slow them down.

Doctors and nurses can scan RFID-tagged medical devices as they are used.

To help hospital personnel keep track of the valuable stents and other medical devices they need daily, WaveMark Inc. (Boxborough, MA) has been working with medical device manufacturers to add radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to their products. "We work with manufacturers to tag their products so that hospitals don't have to do the tagging," says Pat Griffin, vice president, customer operations for WaveMark.

Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, IA, is one such hospital. At Mercy Medical and other participating hospitals, WaveMark installs RFID-enabled storage cabinets with antennas built right into the shelves that read their contents every 18 minutes. The cabinets are typically situated in procedure rooms so that doctors can locate devices in the right sizes (and in their preferred brands) during procedures.

To track products, RFID labels are applied to product cartons. WaveMark is using labels from UPM Raflatac Inc. (Fletcher, NC) with 13.56-MHz frequency RFID tags and inlays. Once product is tagged, the cabinets track the disposition of products as they are removed from the shelf, used in a case, or returned to the shelf. They can even identify missing products. Inventory and usage information is available to hospital staff via a Web browser in the form of reports and decision support tools. RFID offers a high degree of accuracy.

UPM Raflatac provides standard and custom RFID tags and inlays.

The RFID-tagged cartons withstand EtO sterilization, says Griffin. "We've performed extensive tests with UPM Raflatac and have achieved a read accuracy of 99.9% in live hospital environments over the last two years," she reports.

For the service, hospitals pay a subscription fee while WaveMark handles cabinet installation and maintenance, along with the tag application at the participating medical device manufacturers' locations.
Edwards Lifesciences (Irvine, CA), for instance, is working with WaveMark to apply RFID tags to its biliary stents and delivery systems.

Griffin says that RFID use has allowed Edwards to track products from its shipping dock to hospital cabinets and even get near real-time notification when the product is utilized. "Edwards has visibility into what products need to be restocked at hospitals and what products are about to expire," she says.

WaveMark found UPM Raflatac’s tags to have a 99.9% read rate in hospitals.

Griffin states that there is a high return on investment for both hospitals and device manufacturers. "Our software, WaveMark CIMS, gives the hospitals and manufacturers complete visibility. It is easy for hospitals to log on and see what was used on a particular day and automatically generate a replenishment order," she says. In addition, product expiration dates are easily tracked for rotation, and responses to FDA recalls are fast and efficient.

RFID-enabled cabinets cut the time needed for tracking hospital supplies.

WaveMark's use of RFID cuts the time spent on manually tracking products, allowing hospital staff to focus on their first priority, patient care. Hospital administrators like the fact that they can review product throughput and adjust inventory levels, often reducing on-hand supplies and freeing up significant dollars.

In addition to using WaveMark CIMS to track product use, hospitals could even record such use to patient records, if so equipped. WaveMark interfaces with clinical documentation systems to track product usage for billing purposes.

From the manufacturers' perspective, WaveMark addresses the challenge of tracking inventory sitting in a representative's trunk, Griffin says. WaveMark employs the use of handheld PDAs or cell phones for tracking such products. Field reps are now able to easily keep track of what is in their trunk, what is at a hospital account, what has been transferred to another rep, or what has been used for a product demonstration. Having complete records of these transactions used to be a somewhat tedious task, whereas now it's a more automated process.

RFID's track-and-trace capabilities are being employed for many applications. WaveMark's HIPAA- and UL-compliant cabinets have even solved a few mysteries. One hospital was routinely missing supplies after the late-night shift. But the culprit wasn't a thief—just a late-shift ER doctor in search of his favorite brands, too busy to record them.


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