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Managing Medical Equipment & Supplies Using RFID Technology

A high-tech option for tracking your medical equipment and supply assets.


Managing Medical Equipment & Supplies Using RFID Technology

The Mediterranean Sea (Apr. 24, 2003) -- Ship's Serviceman 2nd Class Clifton Stovall takes inventory of medical supplies aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).

Photo (c) Public Domain

As healthcare organizations work to contain costs, one area that continually offers a good return on investment is inventory control. It's nearly impossible to track inventory usage, plan for supply replenishment, and find waste, if asset use is not measured. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has proven to be a common application for tracking medical supplies, medical equipment, durable medical equipment, furniture, and other items in a healthcare organization's inventory.

RFID identifies unique items using radio waves. By placing RFID tags (also known as chips) on or inside supplies, equipment, and furniture, hospitals and medical offices are now able to track where these items are used, stored, and transported to, with little or no manual intervention. By tagging assets, healthcare organizations can increase asset use, identify the last known user of the assets, reduce inventory loss, and even automate equipment service and maintenance schedules and procedures.

How RFID Works

RFID is a technology for identifying unique medical equipment and supplies and other high value assets using radio waves. Typical RFID systems are made up of two major components: Readers and Tags.

The Reader

  • Sometimes called the interrogator
  • Sends and receives radio frequency data to and from the tag via antennas
  • Reader may have multiple antennas that are responsible for sending and receiving the radio waves

The Tag

  • Sometimes called the transponder
  • Made up of the microchip that stores:
    • the identifier (data),
    • an antenna and
    • a carrier to which the chip and antenna are mounted (label).

The RFID labels draw their power from the reader. The reader transmits a low power radio signal through its antenna to the tag. The tag receives it through its own antenna to power the integrated circuit (micro-chip) that is built-into the label.

The tag will briefly communicate with the reader for verification that the tag was “read” and data is exchanged.

RFID Asset Management software keeps track of all items based on the location of the reader (and the item being read), as well as the date and time that “reads” occur. All RFID “reads” are then updated to a central database.

A Typical Deployment

There are many methods for deploying RFID technology. A medical office deployment and installation would include the following:
  • Portable RFID readers and download cradle for importing inventory reports, updating locations and instant “find an item” requirements.

  • Check-in/Check-out RFID Controller in the Medical Equipment or Supplies room with an RFID reader and antenna for passive record Check-in/Check-out.

  • Office wide tracking of items in and out of doorways and common areas or specific rooms with fixed readers and antennas.

  • RFID Workstation for Administrators.

  • Color printer for producing RFID labels.

  • Mobile RFID cart for inventorying and transporting items throughout the office.

Sensors detecting movement and direction of inventory can be placed around the doorways of rooms to passively track equipment. Equipment and supplies can move throughout the facility and their locations during transport are passively tracked in the central database. Their locations are logged in through the radio frequency recordings rather than requiring the need for a staff member to manually record their placement and transport. RFID becomes less work and more accurate than a sign-out sheet. By placing RFID labels on Staff ID badges, the RFID system will the items moving, in what direction, and by what person. The RFID system records the date and time the item is moved too.

Benefits of RFID Tracking for Medical Equipment

In a world where healthcare organizations are being asked to conserve valuable resources and deliver accountability for their vital assets, RFID Asset Tracking will allow you to have complete control over all of your physical organizational assets and inventory. An RFID Asset Tracking solution for medical equipment and supplies will help eliminate lost or misplaced supplies and equipment throughout the Asset Management process. This could be an impressive display of inventory control during a JCAHO Survey.

Departments that can benefit from RFID Asset Tracking can be found throughout a healthcare organization.

Additional Resources to learn more about RFID

There are many educational resources and suppliers of RFID solutions. If you’re new to the world of RFID, visit the RFID Journal and browse through the “New to RFID” section at www.rfidjournal.com.

If you want to learn how to evaluate different suppliers of RFID tags and readers, visit www.rfid4u.com. They help you to make a decision that will impact the long-term success of an RFID project.

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