How RFID technology in healthcare improves patient outcomes
While radio frequency identification (RFID) is well established, recent advances and the ability to combine RFID with cloud computing and other technologies make it increasingly useful. In healthcare, RFID technology in hospitals and other sites can transform clinical and administrative processes.
For example, RFID patient tracking systems with tags enclosed within wristbands can protect the vulnerable while also allowing clinicians to link every patient quickly and easily to their (electronic) notes and other relevant information. Medical devices, pharmaceutical inventory and bed availability can all be tracked in real time. The use of properly (GS1) certified RFID in healthcare can, in one swoop, reduce or remove human error, generate much more efficient workflows, and improve patient pathways and outcomes from multiple perspectives. In this post, we’ll explore the possibilities.
In healthcare settings, traceability, identification and accuracy can be life-changing – and even minor failures can harm patients. For example, Professor Rachel Ann Elliot and colleagues estimate that 237 million medication errors occur every year within the NHS, of which 66 million are potentially clinically significant. Meanwhile, failure to communicate effectively with other clinicians, patients and carers has been linked to poor outcomes, and the lack of any shared, real-time understanding of issues from bed availability to device and pharmacy stock (monitoring and communication of which are still, too often, manual processes) generates delays, compromises care and incurs financial cost.
All of these processes – and more – can become much more accurate and efficient workflows with RFID technology in hospitals and community care sites. With RFID, healthcare managers and clinicians can have real-time visibility and control of their workflows, supplies, patients and options, despite the inherent complexity of healthcare systems.
But what exactly is RFID, and how does it work in health settings?
What is RFID in healthcare?
If you are new to RFID, you may like to check out our previous blog post, which explains the technology in more depth. In basic terms, RFID is wireless communication in which readers track and identify data-encoded tags. Each tag contains information about the item it is attached to (which could be a medical device, an item of property or a patient) and the tag broadcasts this data to the reader.
So, RFID works like a barcode, but RFID has some particularly useful characteristics. The reader (which could be a hand-held reader or embedded within a door or other device) does not need direct line of sight to read the tag, many tags can be read at once and RFID allows each item to be identified and accounted for as a unique unit.
Every time the reader senses (‘reads’) RFID tags, those readings can be fed – immediately – into cloud-hosted software or local networks. This means that authorised people within the organisation can share that information, which is updated for all users in real time. In this way, the RFID-tagged patient/device/asset can be tracked at all times, automatically and accurately (there is no human involved to make mistakes!) And when this data is combined with other applications, such as electronic patient records and bed availability databases, it provides highly accurate, trackable and real time visibility and control for all involved.
There are many applications for RFID technology in hospitals and healthcare, including:
- RFID patient tracking systems not only allow facilities to trace individual patients and protect those most at risk, but also give real-time visibility and control of occupancy, patient distribution and space availability. This makes for much more efficient workflows and patient pathways.
- RFID tagging of devices gives complete medical device traceability. Devices can be located, and patients treated with specific devices identified, in seconds.
- RFID tagging and reading gives an instant overview of device/pharmacy stocks and related information, such as use-by dates and time since purchase. This can be used to optimise ordering, inventory control and availability. What is more, RFID can read hundreds of tags in seconds: compare this with the huge cost and inaccuracy of manually auditing and accounting for each item.
- RFID, especially when used with electronic patient and administrative records, reduces miscommunication and updates/exchanges data in real time. This reduces delays and non-compliance, and can be used at all points of the patient pathway to enhance preparation, ongoing communication and follow-up.
- RFID tags (e.g. in patient wristbands) used with an electronic record generate a single shared source of truth for all clinicians and managers, which can be updated at the bedside/treatment site and keeps everyone informed throughout treatment processes and at every point in the patient pathway.
- RFID makes it easy to automate previously manual processes, such as note transcription and transport, assessment and communication of bed availability and discharge information. This cuts human error and delay, and makes workflows much more efficient.
The NHS Transformation Directorate has also recognised the potential of RFID technology in healthcare and, having conducted a national survey, is now establishing a national benefit framework and evaluation structure for key uses of RFID in healthcare.
The importance of GS1 standards