How RFID Can Benefit Your Healthcare IT Clients

Although RFID (radio frequency identification) technologies are often thought of as a manufacturing and distribution tool, the use of the RFID in healthcare settings has become increasingly common and offers unique benefits to healthcare IT leaders. RFID’s foray into the healthcare scene began primarily with manufacturers and wholesalers, who used the technology as a way to track pharmaceuticals. As the technology had advanced, so have the potential applications within a healthcare environment.

RFID works by using electromagnetic fields to wirelessly transfer data. Once a hospital is equipped with RFID readers, items that are “tagged” can be counted, tracked and processed as they pass by a device reader. Stickers embedded with the technology offer a variety of tracking uses within a healthcare environment, including inventory management. In the often fast-paced healthcare environment, items are often lost or misplaced. RFID tagged items can easily be identified, tracked and managed through a centralized database – helping the facility keep all the inventory information accurate and in one place.

RFID systems also allow for patient and personnel tracking as well. Patients wearing tagged medical bracelets can help medical staff quickly reference personal health information prior to surgery or administering medication, reducing risk of error and allowing clinicians to spend more face-time with their patients. Many facilities have also implemented the technology to collect data on patient movement patterns throughout the hospital in order to improve bottlenecks within the facility. Similarly, medical staff can be fitted with RFID tags on badges in order to learn about staff workflow and any inefficiencies within current hospital operations.

To further amplify to benefits of RFID technology, physical tags may be integrated with browser-based software to improve efficacy. Certain software allows for hospital IT leaders and clinical staff to see real-time data relevant to each piece of tagged equipment or personnel. Archiving capabilities allow for future review of data in order to analyze and improve workflow, as well as the ability to prove compliance with various industry regulations. Together, real-time locating system hardware and software provides a robust data collection tool for healthcare facilities that aim to create a more efficient operation and reduce costs.

As healthcare environments are inherently mobile, clinicians require RFID-enabled devices that can go with them wherever and whenever they need to be on the move. Mobile computing solutions have advanced over the years, allowing for a more streamlined documentation process. Bluetooth technology, barcode readers and hot swappable batteries are all tools that help make clinicians’ lives easier throughout their hectic day. As IT leaders have realized the benefits that RFID enabled devices can provide their healthcare systems, the real-time tracking capability has also become paramount in mobile computing solutions.

While there is no single path to RFID adoption in healthcare environments, it is clear that real-time tracking capabilities have the potential to greatly improve facility operations. Two years ago the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) led the charge when it announced a five-year plan to deploy RFID in hospitals across America to improve care and reduce costs. Facilities must evaluate their individual needs and barriers to success, select solutions tailored to their needs, and develop a clear deployment strategy for RFID technology.

When healthcare facilities take steps to alleviate the arduous tasks of keeping track of all the moving parts – patient records, medication distribution and equipment whereabouts – they’re effectively reducing facility costs, improving staff workflow and providing a more efficient patient care experience.