Tracking equipment is a whole lot easier with today’s RFID systems.

Today’s radiofrequency identification (RFID) technologies are performing a range of functions to address the many challenges of health care delivery. From ensuring accurate CT contrast delivery, to measuring radiation dose, to tracking equipment, RFID solutions have established their importance in busy hospitals.

Specifically in radiology settings, RFID products have proven to be a reliable way to bring about streamlined workflow, improved efficiency, and enhanced patient safety.

Boston-based Tufts Medical Center, for one, recently selected a real-time inventory management solution to organize the facility’s interventional radiology, adult and pediatric cath, and EP departments. WaveMark CIMS, manufactured by WaveMark Inc, will track an arsenal of almost 5,000 products housed in the 451-bed medical center.

“Choosing WaveMark allowed us to address a number of challenges at Tufts,” said Steve Cashton, director, supply chain management at Tufts, in a press release. “We needed to reduce inventory levels in all areas by at least 20% in order to reallocate those resources to other critical needs. In addition, we wanted to trim the operating budget and reduce write-offs, without adversely impacting patient safety and clinical workflow. WaveMark will enable us to meet these goals and give us a strong return on investment.”

A common misconception is that the tag causes interference, but the potential for interference comes from the antenna.

Using RFID cabinets and Point of Service readers, WaveMark CIMS collects information that allows for “real-time inventory management.” Time-consuming manual processes are eliminated, thereby permitting clinicians to focus more on patient care and less on manually tracking each ultrasound unit or medical device. According to WaveMark, hospitals are then able to achieve optimized inventory levels, improved management of product expirations and recalls, and better charge capture.

These benefits appealed to Tufts, as it looked to increase product visibility in its specialty suites. “Their understanding of the value of WaveMark’s use of RFID and network technology will provide scores of benefits and savings as they roll out the solution in their high-volume specialty labs,” said John Wass, CEO of WaveMark.

The oldest permanent medical facility in New England ultimately chose WaveMark for its accuracy and ability to maximize clinical workflow. “By taking advantage of WaveMark CIMS solution, we are able to achieve our financial, operational, and clinical objectives with a single system,” Cashton said in his press statement.

Rebecca and John Moores UCSD Cancer Center also chose a real-time location system solution, but from Awarepoint Corp. As the third UCSD Medical Center to install Awarepoint’s solution, the cancer center has expanded the company’s enterprise real-time locating system (RTLS) installation to include nearly 1.5 million square feet. More than 2,000 assets are under management.

Awarepoint’s tags work by broadcasting low-power radio messages, enabling users to locate specific equipment or people and provide information about their movement and status. For example, UCSD processes between 4,000 and 5,000 instrument trays on average each month, and many of these trays are shared between the campuses. According to Awarepoint, now the facility can track the location and status of these trays, thereby maximizing their usage and lowering the need for additional inventory. Furthermore, the hospital network can reduce surgical case delays and costly cancellations.

“We could not afford to continually stock all three campuses with duplicates of each and every one of the assets they may need—particularly costly items such as medical instrumentation tray sets,” said Tom Hamelin, director of perioperative services at UCSD Medical Center, in a press release. “This would pose an inventory management nightmare if I didn’t have true enterprise-awareness across all buildings.”

The UCSD facilities particularly hope to reduce equipment inventory requirements, lower equipment rental costs, reduce the amount of time it takes for staff to search for equipment, and minimize equipment theft and loss. With Awarepoint’s solution, ZigBee sensors are deployed in standard electrical outlets throughout the enterprise. ZigBee technology and patented computational algorithms deliver accuracy across the hospital footprint, not just to one room, according to Awarepoint.

On the other hand, RTLS systems like infrared or ultrasound require signal containment within four walls in order to locate transmitting tags. These systems depend on the number and placement of receivers and line of sight between tag and receiver, according to Awarepoint.

“With IR or ultrasound systems, customers would need to deploy a dense and expansive infrastructure to truly cover an entire enterprise,” said Matt Perkins, Awarepoint’s chief technology officer. “In addition, with these alternative technologies, signals can be blocked by normal hospital processes. Equipment in areas like closets, drawers, case carts, wrapped assets, etc will be ‘hidden.’ This is particularly critical in open areas like the Sterile Processing Department, and for assets like instrumentation trays that are housed in case carts, wrapped trays, or Tyvek® Peel Pouches.”

Elaine Sanchez is an associate editor for Axis Imaging News.