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Passive RFID Boosts Visibility of Hospital Assets

July 13, 2011
by David Raths
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More hospitals tagging, tracking expensive medical equipment

Speaking during a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) webinar on July 12, two hospital officials responsible for millions of dollars of equipment described the return on investment possible from passive RFID (radio frequency identification) asset-tracking implementations.

As in other industries in which expensive equipment, staff, and customers are mobile and need to come together with precision, RFID has drawn increasing interest in healthcare.

Both David Strelow, director of cardiovascular laboratories at the eight-hospital Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo., and Jim Burton, director of biomedical engineering at seven-hospital Resurrection Health Care in Chicago, said their teams looked at more powerful and more expensive active RFID solutions before choosing passive systems. (Active RFID is powered by a battery, while passive RFID uses radio frequency energy transferred from the reader to the tag for power.)

Strelow said that his project team ultimately decided that active tags were too big and too expensive while the passive tags cost only 20 cents each and the overall project costs were much more manageable.

With the project that began in 2006, he said, Saint Luke’s sought to get a handle on areas the hospital materials management system doesn’t address. “How do I manage supply loss and waste?” he asked. “Lost charges are a big worry every year.” Even one-tenth of 1 percent of loss represents $50,000 in lost revenue, he said.

Now with passive RFID tags on all equipment, Strelow can track lost supplies and manage large bulk orders. Individual pieces of equipment are assigned and tracked to individual patients. A software application allows him to track expiration dates and equipment that needs preventative maintenance. With the inventory supply more reliable, employees are no longer hording supplies, he added.

Burton said Resurrection is addressing several issues, including missed preventative maintenance and as many as 50 pieces of equipment missing each month.

Strelow says one potential future use is to put passive RFID tags on employee nametags so that Saint Luke’s could see not just which equipment is leaving a storage space but who is taking it to verify they are an authorized user.

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