Hospital boosts patient safety with RFID

From the mHealthNews archive
By Ephraim Schwartz
08:07 am

Fletcher Allen was facing a problem. The 500-plus bed hospital in the heart of Vermont’s ski country needed to turn over as many as 20 to 30 medication trays within a limited time while maintaining patient safety, and the manual system had become unwieldy.

It was almost impossible to keep up, in fact, and the pharmacy tech support staff realized that automating the system was the only alternative.

When pharmacy director Karen McBride went to the Midyear Clinical Meeting of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists she witnessed a demonstration of Kit Check's automated RFID system.

How it works

Recently Kit Check introduced RFID Seal Tags in collaboration with Health Care Logistics for hospital pharmacy kit safety. Seal tags are affixed to a restocked kit, assuring a pharmacist or pharmacy tech that the kit is fully stocked and ready for use (broken tags indicate the kit has been used or tampered with). The Kit Check software reads the tags, eliminating the need to manually record serial numbers for each kit and creating an audit trail for State Board of Pharmacy and Joint Commission inspections.

"The Seal Kit gives hospitals the ability to print out reports and avoids a hospital getting cited for having expired drugs," company CEO Kevin McDonald said.

At Fletcher Allen, technicians start by scanning the NDC bar code, which identifies the drug, integrates that information with Medispan and populates the Kit Check software. The tech then enters the lot number and expiration date for the drug, and the number of items that will be tagged.

The tech then prints the correct number of tags, each with a unique RFID identifier. Labels are either applied by the tech, or the hospital could use a third-party re-packager to do the tagging. Either way, once tagged, Kit Check can keep track of each individual medication and identify the expiration date. In this way, the pharmacy manager can manage drugs on the tray in accordance with hospital policy. 

Batch verification in most cases still requires a pharmacist to do a visual inspection to insure that the RFID tag data matches the medication label. Following that, a case of tagged meds is put into the scanning station for machine verification (which takes five seconds). McDonald says the entire process takes about 10 seconds per item, saving approximately one minute per item throughout the life cycle of the medication. Once the items are in the system, Kit Check also tracks inventory levels.

A report generator gives the pharmacy a bird's eye view into the kits out there, showing the kit's history and inventory, all viewed through a Web browser, which then generates the regulatory paperwork.

"Now when a cart leaves here we can scan the tray and the bar code on the ermergency cart,” said Lisa Jackman, manager of the pharmacy tech support staff.

Impressive results
After going live with the wireless RFID system in early May, Fletcher Allen Hospital has restocked nearly 130,000 medications over 10,000 times from 766 pharmacy trays and kits, saving 14 hours per day in pharmacy tech and pharmacist time.

"We switched out code carts and since then we've seen these kind of numbers," Jackman said.

Training on the new system took all of 15 minutes, Jackman said, but it wasn't the minimal training time, the low up-front cost or even the improved workflow for the staff that was the deciding factor in deploying Kit Check. 

"The technolgy greatly reduces the human error factor and improves patient safety,” Jackman said. “Those were the main reasons we made the change."

Ephraim Schwartz is a freelance writer based in Burlington, Vt. Schwartz is a recognized mobile expert and columnist, having spent 15 years as Editor-at-Large for InfoWorld, half of them covering the mobile space. Prior to that he was Editor-in-Chief of Laptop Magazine.

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