Hospital assets, including medical equipment, prescription drugs and, yes, people, are now being tracked and monitored by RFID (radio frequency identification) tags. Whether mounted directly on equipment or integrated into ID badges and pharmaceutical supplies, RFID can provide a fast, secure and cost-effective technology for better healthcare management.
Applications are many, but here are five examples of how RFID tags are affecting healthcare operations.
1. Locating necessary equipment. A recent AMR Research study reported that up to 25% of hospital staff interviewed say their day is spent trying to locate specialty instruments and equipment. Obviously, this diversion limits the amount of time the caregiver can actually devote to his or her patients, and can impact situations from normal operating procedure to code blue.
RFID tags can not only save valuable staff time, but in many instances could save a life by locating necessary equipment, which is tagged and tracked throughout the facility, in real time at the exact location where it is inventoried.
2. Tracking patients. With patients being moved from room to room, through ER and OR to recovery or ICU, sometimes from floor to floor and often with a variety of doctors assigned to different aspects of a patient’s care, tracking is crucial. RFID provides a real-time solution to patient location. Additionally, it can help with preventing unauthorized “check-out” of older patients with memory issues or newborns who may be the target of kidnappers.
3. Tracking medications. RFID tags can also be used to monitor medicines, preventing theft and identifying the location of pharmaceuticals in real time and from remote locations. Additionally, the technology can assure that the right prescriptions are given to the right patients at the right time.
Bar codes are used extensively for this purpose in many healthcare settings, but RFID technology offers additional benefits that are beginning to be embraced. For example, RFID tags offer additional privacy as the mobile computer screen can be programmed for screen save mode. Patient information is maintained with confidentiality.
4. Monitoring handwashing protocols. Healthcare workers are pledged to maintain sanitary handwashing procedures during their shifts, but sometimes, as humans, they forget. Staff wearing ID badges with embedded RFID tags are monitored at similarly equipped handwashing stations throughout the hospital. Each time staff washes their hands, the reader can record the user’s identity and length of stay in front of the reader. Management then has a real-time reporting of compliance for this significant element of hospital cleanliness.
5. Security. RFID is now being used by hospitals to control access to restricted entry and exit points as well as restricted areas within a facility. Unmanned, controlled access security provides the audit trail information required for restricted access areas, and can track people as well as assets through various zones throughout the facility.
RFID tags are also being used in other areas of healthcare operations, including managing patient wait time, parking garage usage, inventory control and general maintenance operations such as laundry and food service. Using RFID for asset and people tracking has an advantage over bar codes, as there is no line-of-sight requirement and assets can be identified and located in real time from a central location.