How RFID could help address healthcare inefficiency6 October 2023
The misplacement and loss of equipment and diagnostic samples, among other resources, results in hours of wasted time in the clinic that can have a real impact on patient care. Wayne Miller, director of Zebra Technology Corporation’s EMEA Healthcare Practice speaks of the difficulties these day-to-day occurrences lead to in healthcare, and the solutions his organisation believes might help address them.
NS Healthcare (NSH): Locating, tracking and storing medical equipment is a time-consuming process within healthcare. How can automation help?
Wayne Miller (WM): Automating the collection of information regarding asset movement status and location allows clinical teams to spend more time on patient care. It also allows the technical teams supporting assets and medical devices more time to ensure the fleet is in the best condition possible and in the right place to support the needs of the hospital or clinic.
NSH: What is the impact of not being able to monitor and track assets on both patient care and healthcare provider efficiency?
WM: A 2015 study found that the average nurse spends at least 30 minutes during every shift looking for assets. Expand this over an entire 500-strong nursing team and that equates to 250 hours per shift. There are the same problems throughout the world regarding wasted nursing time, the figures are pretty consistent. It’s safe to assume that larger hospitals may have more of a problem than smaller hospitals, purely due to their size and geography; multiple sites and departments hoarding kit means that assets are not to hand when they’re needed. This in turn causes a problem for other teams and departments and prevents kit from being serviced regularly, which by itself risks patient care.
NSH: What products/services does Zebra offer that could help?
WM: Zebra has built its business on ensuring the right product is in the right place at the right time. In other verticals, such as manufacturing, travel and leisure, and retail, ensuring the “three rights” is critical to profitability and keeping customers happy – healthcare is no different. Though not a profit focused organisation, for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), reducing the waste of time, assets and bed spaces are key requirements in reducing waiting lists and improving care. Making better use of available resources is critical.
NSH: What is MotionWorksTM and “the wand” and how can they help healthcare providers?
WM: MotionWorks is a software suite that provides visibility over workflows. “What is it, where is it, where has it been and where is it going?” that’s what it can tell you. “The wand” is a mobile reader that can be used to locate missing items – hence the term “wand”. It also helps with stocktaking by allowing personnel to simply walk with it around a storage room, where It is able to read 1,200 items per second – something that would take a human about 20 minutes to do, reading one item per second.
Zebra also offers fixed location readers, providing location information and an inventory of moving assets. These can be located around the door of a storage room or operating theatre, for example, and as items pass through, they record and provide the time and date of that movement, supporting accurate real-time visibility without a human having to scan.
NSH: How do these products use RFID technology, and what benefits does that bring?
WM: For asset movement, fixed readers allow staff to conduct dynamic stocktakes whenever required. Capable of 1,200 scans per second, they save a great deal of staff time. For tracking valuable items such as blood samples and biopsies, placing an RFID label on the sample allows not only the identification of those samples, but for them to be tracked as they progress through the hospital to the laboratory, and through the laboratory itself. This ensures no sample is missed and expedites patient diagnosis, resulting in faster treatment.
NSH: For healthcare facilities that wish to use this technology, what investment in infrastructure is needed and how easily can it be incorporated into legacy systems?
WM: Dedicated passive RFID infrastructure is required. However, the alternative to this is often to use a WiFi real-time location system. For installations with over 20,000 assets, the investment in tags for a WiFi real-time location system is often more expensive than the investment in infrastructure for passive RFID. Passive RFID is better able to tag a variety of items too – from assets such as IT equipment, to small blood or biopsy samples.
All software can be integrated into modern software systems easier now than it has ever been by the utilisation of healthcare protocols such as Health Level Seven (HL7) and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources' standard (FHIR). In the UK, NHS England has recognised the need for integration, often referred to as interoperability. However, older legacy systems are sometimes not HL7/FHIR compliant.
NSH: By utilising this technology, what can healthcare providers hope to achieve?
WM: If you can tag it, you can track it. NHS trusts are investing in visibility solutions to improve patient care and patient outcomes. Today, the tracking of blood samples and biopsies are in greater demand to ensure that the specimen reaches the laboratory on time. With these systems, once a laboratory receives a specimen, an acknowledgement can be sent to the clinician of the patient, if required.
The tracking of patients and staff is also possible; however, such capabilities do cause some concern around privacy and data protection. These concerns, though, are more a perception than a real risk, as the data contained in the tag is no different to that present on a printed label, wristband or staff ID badge.
Tracking samples throughout the hospital, or from an external GP surgery or clinic, has been recognised by NHS England as a key step forward in improving patient care, enabling swift analysis and diagnosis, reducing current waiting lists thanks to swift turnarounds. Combining this process with bed management and patient flow, NHS trusts and NHS England can understand the true bottlenecks within the system and ensure that resources are better placed to minimise them and, as mentioned, improve turnaround times. Real-time visibility is key, as this provides a true understanding of the issues at hand immediately, rather than months after the event.
NSH: Are you hoping to add more to the current offering, or additional products that might enhance what you already offer?
WM: There are a number of products Zebra sees as a natural progression in the market that might help with bed management, sample tracking and maybe staff/patient movements to help better understand workflow and treatment pathways. All future products will be designed to support patient care and ultimately contribute to improved outcomes. By helping to better utilise existing resources while reducing the need to further invest in managing or replacing assets and resources, healthcare providers can concentrate on providing investment that directly enhances patient treatment.
To learn more about how RFID could help address healthcare efficiencies please click here do download the whitepaper.