3 opportunities for radio frequency identification in anesthesia

In recent years, radio frequency identification has been gaining traction as a vehicle for healthcare inventory management.

Here are three things to know about RFID:

1. Its goal is to address inventory without impeding workflow. At its core, RFID is a wireless system of tags and readers.

In anesthesia care, a medication package is equipped with an RFID tag and microchip, which includes a unique serial number and is encoded with data specific to that drug — such as medication name, manufacturer, lot number and expiration date. Various checkpoints throughout a healthcare facility's supply chain are outfitted with reader devices, which emit radio waves to identify medication based on its tag. These readers might be in the drawers of an operating room medication station, for example, to monitor which drugs are being used during surgical procedures.

"The technology used by MEPS is passive RFID," says Shariq Hussain, president and CEO at MEPS Real-Time, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based technology company that leverages RFID for medication management. MEPS Real-Time recently launched the Intelliguard Linked Visibility Inventory System for anesthesia drug management.

"Compare it to bar codes; bar codes require a human interaction every time there's a transaction. You have to either scan the item into the system or scan it out of the system," Mr. Hussain says. "With RFID, you can just put the items into the drawer, close the drawer and then the system does its self-inventory to figure out how many items have been added or removed."

2. It allows anesthesiologists to focus on their clinical responsibilities. At present, many anesthesiologists track medication usage by manually recording each time an anesthetic is used. While this monitoring is important, some anesthesiologists feel that it takes time away from the primary focus of surgery: patient care.

"The anesthesiologist should be able to concentrate on patient care, and not have to also be an inventory manager in the OR," says Valerie Fritz, vice president of marketing at MEPS Real-Time.

"Anesthesiologists are unique — they get to prescribe, dispense, compound and administer," adds Jay Williams, vice president of sales and business development at MEPS Real-Time. "They have all of those functions that are taking place inside of the OR, and the focus really needs to be on the patient, not on being worried about scanning items in and out of the cabinet."

3. It streamlines communication between the OR and pharmacy. Through remote monitoring of anesthesia products in the OR, RFID allows pharmacists to analyze utilization patterns and preemptively restock medications without a call from the facility.

"One of the things we used to hear from the pharmacists is that once these anesthesia trays leave the pharmacy, they don't know what's going on with them," says Mr. Hussain. "Why not design a system that gives remote visibility of the products?"

This monitoring access works to avoid last-minute stress, in which a physician realizes a drug has not been restocked.

"If something is going out of stock, the pharmacy knows it before the inventory is zero," says Ms. Fritz. "There's already enough stress in the operating room. Medication access and availability should never have to be part of that."

More articles on anesthesia:
36% of anesthesia cases now take place outside of the operating room: 3 research insights
Growth strategies for independent anesthesiology groups
3 reasons anesthesiologists should invest in data analytics

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