“Sorry, we have a staffing shortage,” are not the words you want to hear in a healthcare setting. It’s no secret that the pandemic burned out healthcare workers at an extraordinary rate, and hospitals are experiencing an unprecedented HR crisis. Filling the vacancies will take years while new doctors and nurses are trained. But in the meantime, the quality of patient care is suffering, and healthcare needs – yours or a loved one’s – won’t wait.
Some healthcare experts are advocating for a flex-work approach similar to the hybrid workplace many offices have recently instituted. Allowing nurses to work shorter shifts, and to choose those shifts when possible, is already showing promise as a way to retain skilled staff by accommodating a life-work balance.
Technology, too, shows a path toward better patient care with fewer staff. The healthcare sector is already heavily invested in advanced technology, from robotic surgery to electronic medical records (EMR). RFID technology is found in many healthcare settings, where its data-collection capabilities are helping to keep track of pharmaceutical and equipment assets.
RFID tags and readers instantly deliver the answers to important healthcare queries.
- What is it? An RFID tag includes the name of a drug or piece of equipment, the manufacturer’s name, an inventory control number, and other identifying information.
- How many are there? Tags provide a complete, accurate, and fast count of supplies, to avoid shortages.
- Where is it? RFID-tagged equipment and personnel can be tracked in real time moving through a hospital.
- When does it expire? RFID labels include this information; it’s especially important for patient safety, and to avoid wasting expensive drugs that weren’t rotated into use before their expiry date.
As you might imagine, finding these answers manually can be extremely time-consuming, involving multiple healthcare professionals whose time is better spent caring for patients. No one wants to see nurses running through the halls looking for a surgeon or a crash cart.
Moreover, RFID-enabled patient wristbands reduce care errors. Patients’ identities can be confirmed, their treatment plans updated, and their EMR records accessed via RFID and interoperable medical technology.
RFID saves time, reduces errors, and lets healthcare workers devote their time to patient care rather than managing supplies and equipment. It won’t solve the staffing crisis on its own, but there’s no question that it is a vital part of the healthcare personnel solution.
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With its unmatched speed and accuracy, RFID technology is unbeatable for collecting data to manage physical assets. Users and tech developers are constantly coming up with new applications and best practices. Each year at its annual conference, RFID Journal honors organizations who have showed exemplary uses of RFID in their operations. Congratulations to this year’s Annual Award winners, including:
Retail: Carter’s, a U.S. based children’s clothing manufacturer, uses RFID to improve its inventory management and increase omnichannel sales.
Manufacturing: Global technology and engineering company Emerson is managing process-hardware assets with an RFID/IOT system that includes a predictive maintenance feature.
Healthcare: England’s University Hospital Plymouth adopted RFID to track more than 40,000 medical devices and sterile equipment units as they are deployed around the hospital.
Logistics/Supply Chain: BAE Systems, a manufacturer of defense, aerospace, and security systems, has expanded its RFID asset management to track the movement of assets entering and exiting warehouses, as well as managing containers and storage space.
A Special Achievement Award was presented to Dr. James Shuler, U.S. Department of Energy, and Dr. Yung Liu, Argonne National Laboratory, who collaborated on the development of an RFID system for tracking nuclear waste. In addition to their innovative system, they have devoted much time to educating organizations about the value of RFID in such applications.
Forward-thinking individuals and businesses like these award winners make RFID technology more useful for everyone. As advocates of RFID ourselves, we at NOS salute their innovative applications.
Are you an RFID innovator? This award could be yours next year!
To prove the bold claim in our headline, we’d have to prove a negative (which is impossible), but the very real probability exists that RFID has saved lives.
RFID is well known as a true labor-saving device. Manual inventories used to take days. RFID inventories take minutes. A single click of a handheld RFID reader identifies the contents of an entire room of furniture, equipment, books, parts, etc. Time-wasting manual check-out logs are replaced by doorway-mounted RFID readers that automatically track the movements of assets, from people to documents.
But saving time is only half of the RFID equation. The other half is accuracy.
An inaccurate inventory is a danger. Consider what an inaccurate manual inventory costs your business:
- Working capital is tied up: Businesses overbuy when their inventory is imprecise.
- Sales and customers are lost: Faulty inventories lead to stock-outs and disappointed customers.
- Write-offs are common: When inventory expires or goes missing, or when small incremental errors add up over time, the write-offs put a big dent in the balance sheet.
- Labor is wasted: Finding and fixing inventory errors requires many hours of additional labor.
Unreliable inventory data can put your business in a precarious financial position. However, the accuracy of RFID shields you from asset management disasters.
And sometimes it can even mean the difference between death:
- Using RFID, a hospital is able to maintain an adequate supply of a life-saving drug, and locate essential equipment and personnel the moment they are needed.
- A fire chief deploys real-time RFID to track the movements of each firefighter in a burning building, pulling them out of danger zones or sending in a rescue squad.
- In a chemical plant leak, RFID is used for headcounts at mustering points to ensure workers have been safely evacuated.
It’s possible that the hospital wouldn’t have run out of medicine, or the medical equipment would have been close at hand, or the firefighters or chemical plant workers would have exited safely. But guesswork and luck are no way to manage an operation, whether it’s the life of patients, workers, or your business.
Don’t fall victim to an inaccurate inventory. RFID will take your asset management from “maybe” to “for sure.” And that’s something we can prove.
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HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, has come to mean one thing to the average consumer: healthcare privacy. Medical information is kept strictly private, far from the prying eyes of journalists, employers, and neighborhood gossips. Many healthcare providers have come close to eliminating paper documents in their practices. Even if they use paper forms, the forms are imaged into an electronic healthcare record (EHR) with advanced crypto-security.
Healthcare facilities managers are concerned with HIPAA only insofar as they need to ensure sufficient storage space for paper documents, and adequate operational resources for the organization’s IT needs. But facilities managers, like healthcare professionals, generate a sizeable number of paper documents even when a building’s design originated on computers. And those documents have risk management implications just like patients’ documents.
Unlike patient documents, FM documents are generally very public. Drawings, permits, project schedules, punch lists – all are public, and subject to a legal doctrine called the Statute of Repose. The statute of repose is similar to the statute of limitations; it sets a limit on the amount of time a design client can hold a design/construction professional liable for errors. If there are any complaints or legal actions, all the supporting documents will be needed.
As a facilities manager (i.e., the client), you’ll want to retain all construction-related documents for at least the duration of the statute of repose, if not for several years beyond, as required by risk management policies. That’s a lot of paper, and it takes up a lot of storage space for a number of years. Plus, the paper documents have all the usual vulnerabilities of paper: fire, floods, pests, and pilferage, as well as loss or misfiling.
Imaging a healthcare facility’s documents offers the same advantages that come with imaged patient documents: compact storage, security, and information accessibility including authorized search and sharing. If there is a need to refer to any of these documents, they can be retrieved with electronic speed, much faster than a laborious hunt through numerous flat files.
Healthcare facilities managers are focused on the needs of their healthcare organization and the patients it serves. But when they include their own document conversion needs along with those of the other departments, they will gain efficiency and effectiveness that makes them even better at their work. And they are managing risks during the period of the statute of repose.
Experimental paradigms and QC testing put subjects through extreme conditions. Heat and cold, solvents, exceptionally high pressure – some or all of these may be applied in research. But if specimens can’t be identified with absolute accuracy, test results are questionable.
Paper labels can fall off. Ink can fade or smear. When researchers at NIH (National Institutes of Health) considered using RFID to identify specimens, they needed to find out if RFID tags could withstand the harsh conditions in labs.
Being researchers, they subjected a batch of RFID tags to the same rigorous tests they used with their other scientific investigations. The tags were put through repeated test cycles, including:
- Wet and dry autoclave cycles with temperatures as high as 120 degrees centigrade (248 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Multiple exposures to tissue-staining chemicals hematoxylin and eosin
- High temperatures of 75 degrees centigrade (167 degrees Fahrenheit) for 7 days
- Cold temperatures as low as -196 degrees centigrade (-320 degrees Fahrenheit) for 12 months
- Freeze-thaw cycles fluctuating between -196 degrees and 22 degrees centigrade (-320 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit)
The results? RFID tags are plenty tough. The researchers found them to be especially cold tolerant: Even after being frozen solid for one year, the tags still functioned perfectly. And the tags subjected to freeze-thaw cycles also performed flawlessly even after 50 cycles. In fact, only two tags failed, one after 9 dry autoclave cycles and one after chemical exposure.
The researchers concluded that RFID tags were ideal for life-sciences specimen tracking, durable even in extreme test conditions. They suggested adding bar code labels as a back-up for dry-autoclave and chemical conditions, but emphasized the tags’ 100% tolerance for heat and cold – conditions that are common in many testing and bio-archiving processes, as well as pharmaceutical manufacturing and healthcare cryostorage.
What does this mean for other RFID applications? In more standard conditions – offices, warehouses, retail and manufacturing operations – RFID functions flawlessly. And for lab settings with extreme conditions, RFID is a valuable tool for maintaining data integrity.
Scientists value accuracy, but they’re not the only ones. Every business relies on accurate information, no matter the circumstances, the products, or the services. RFID delivers, every time.
A 600-bed hospital managed by the Mayo Clinic was among the first to calculate and publish the results of an ROI analysis of RFID in a healthcare setting. The final number was impressive: 327% ROI over the first three years, with break-even at less than a year.
But maybe your organization isn’t in the healthcare business. You manage a professional services company, a manufacturing business, a museum, or a retail store. How do you calculate RFID’s ROI when your operations are quite different from a hospital’s operations?
ROI calculations, at their most fundamental, start with questions.
- What items are vital to your operations? Answer very specifically (e.g. “33 laptop computers with 16 gb of storage,” rather than “computers”). These items can be operational elements, or manufactured products, or a combination.
- Visibility: How many times per day/week/month does an item go missing? How often are you short on supplies?
- Intrinsic value: What does the loss of an item cost – not just the hard cost, but the cost of intangible added value? Artwork or data are examples.
- Management costs: What is the cost of periodic inventories or audits to maintain operations?
- Ancillary costs: How much income is lost due to down time when an item is missing or lost, or supplies run low? Are there costs associated with regulatory fines for lost items? How do inaccurate inventories in one department impact other departments’ finances?
With these numbers in hand, calculate two cost scenarios. One scenario is for existing conditions. The other includes the potential improvement to visibility provided by RFID. Most RFID users see visibility (loss) improvements of 60% or better.
But to truly calculate ROI, we have to project the potential savings over an extended period, usually 3 to 5 years. The Net Present Value (NPV) formula gives the most realistic ROI projections for RFID. The NPV formula shows whether the benefits outweigh the costs.
If you manage finances for your organization, you’re familiar with NPV. If you work in a less math-intensive department, you might find an NPV calculator useful. Either way, the answer will give you a strong indication of the wisdom of an investment in RFID. We’re quite confident you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!
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