RFID Tagging – Is it really worth the cost? Answer – a very definite yes

by Robertus Oosterwijk - Marketing Executive

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging is an automatic ID system using small radio frequency identification devices to identify and track people, pets, commercial products and corporate documents.

Over the last couple of years there has been a breakthrough in RFID pricing with the use of passive tags instead of active tags. Traditional active tags require batteries and constantly broadcast a signal making the cost of the tag and the maintenance unaffordable to organisations that require large volumes of tags on low value items. The introduction of passive tags overcomes many of these barriers as the tags do not require batteries and are only picked up as they pass under sensors.

Many hospitals have now started to use passive tags on medical records as this provides a number of benefits. The first issue they address is that the best case note tracking systems in the world are only as good as the discipline users have in updating it. Without RFID tracking, records can generally be tracked to the clinic but the issue of lost records often arises when busy clinicians or health professionals simply move the record from the tracked location to another location without updating the case notes system. In addition patient records are often kept – unfiled – in the clinic where there can be several hundred records making it very difficult to locate a single file.

The consequence of all this is twofold. First, the labour cost associated with finding a record is significant with some NHS Trusts employing as many as 20 full-time employees to simply look for records that have gone missing. The second consequence of this can all too often be the impact on the patient with appointments, or even theatre slots, being cancelled because the patient’s notes cannot be located. Since working in this area I’ve learned that most acute hospitals miss several theatre slots every month due to appointments being cancelled because the patient record could not be located. Whilst the impact on the patient is obvious for all to see, one must not forget that this has a flow through which impacts on the revenue the Trust can recognise in the month.

Jackie Brown, the Head of Outpatients and Health Records Services at the Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust’s clinical support services division, says the manual system of locating and filing its 201,000 onsite patient records was time-consuming. “The health record could not be located anywhere within our onsite and offsite facilities,” she explains. “Poor tracking meant that we could often not locate health records in time for clinics, theatre sessions, etc.”

The use of RFID technology with medical records solves all of these problems. Records are only tracked onto a wing of a hospital rather than putting sensors on every room within the wing, which would be far too costly. When a specific records needs to be located, a detector gun can be used which will tell the user which room the records is in and will locate a single record amongst several hundred records in a matter of seconds.

It is clear that the tagging of medical records alone will provide tangible costs savings for the organisation and usually offer a return on investment in less than 12 months. Having justified such an investment to install the RFID infrastructure, the additional applications of it are endless with Trusts already using it to track patients, trolleys of equipment, blood samples, pharmaceuticals and matching patients to specific beds. The additional cost of these applications of the technology is minimal – but the benefits to everyone are clear to see.

The original article was published in the September edition of The Journal for Health Informatics Professionals. www.ihrimjournal.co.uk