Tag! You’re it!
In the past few years, radio frequency identification (RFID) has received considerable attention within the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. If you’re not familiar, the technology uses radio waves to transfer data from an electronic tag—called an RFID tag or label—attached to an object, through a reader for the purpose of identifying and tracking the object. While not a new technology, it’s one that continues to improve on the promise to efficiently track hospital supplies, medical equipment, medications and patients—as well as personnel in order to streamline processes while better serving patient safety initiatives.Once seen as an expensive solution with too many variables, the technology has recently become more affordable, and best practices and professional organizations have cropped up with the purpose of finding ways to use the technology most effectively and in patients’ best interests.
Some of the most common uses of RFID in healthcare today include:

  • Medication administration and tracking: Tagging of unit-of-use drugs for proper administration to reduce medication errors and to improve patient safety. Some hospitals also use the technology to track dangerous drugs individually, like vials of morphine, to prevent theft and misuse in real time.
  • Medication authentication and restocking: Tracking of drug origin and expiration date so that the system can alert the caregiver in case an item is counterfeit, has expired or needs to be refilled.
  • Hospital equipment and medical supplies tracking: Managing inventories and equipment life cycles as well as ensuring proper medical instrument handling. Many hospitals now use RFID to track gauze, sponges and towels in the operating room in order to reduce or eliminate unintentionally retained foreign objects during surgery.
  • Patient tracking: RFID wristbands for patient information, such as name, blood type, allergies and medications, and location tracking. Allows caregivers to monitor Alzheimer’s patients, newborn babies and those with contagious diseases 24/7 to prevent accidents, kidnappings and exposure to other patients.
  • Blood banking and lab/pathology sample tracking: Tagging of blood transfusions from donor to patient—active tags to ensure alerts in case blood has not been properly refrigerated or tissue and serum samples tracked through the diagnostic and pathology lab.

In an age when more and more people have a choice in healthcare, RFID tagging can be a huge selling point to those looking for patient safety initiatives that leverage new and advanced technology. If your healthcare organization utilizes RFID in this capacity, consider spreading the word of its benefit to patients:

  • Include information on how your organization uses RFID tags to enhance patient safety on your website. Consider making a short video explaining how and when it’s used or a Q-and-A with the chief safety officer.
  • Highlight the use of RFID tagging in newsletter articles both internally and externally to educate both patients and staff. Encourage patients and staff members to share stories of how the technology impacted someone’s stay that can be highlighted in the newsletter or through other marketing efforts. Thank them for participating with small tokens of appreciation like a fun medical badge pull or hand sanitizer in scrub bottles.
  • Speaking of educating staff, make sure they are aware of how RFID is used and the processes that are in place that stand to affect them and/or their patients. Hold informational sessions, distribute manuals and spread awareness through fun giveaway items like key tags or luggage tags.
  • Mention the use of RFID tagging in tours to illustrate your organization’s aim to providing efficient and mindful care. During tours, use props like slap bands or reflective stickers to help demonstrate how RFID works.

RFID tags are yet another cool technology that health care organizations can utilize to better serve patients. If you’re not already, check out how these tags can improve your organization today.

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