The Future of RFID Technology in Healthcare

Updated on December 3, 2021

Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Miranda Toledo, Senior Director of Marketing at IntelliGuard 

For more than a decade, passive radio frequency identification (RFID) has been used to dramatically improve supply chain medication management. Passive RFID is a technology that uses tags with no internal power source and instead are powered by the electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reader. The tag then transmits a coded message back to the reader at a different frequency to automatically identify and track medication and other inventory. An efficient and effective way to track, trace and manage critical inventory, the benefits of adopting RFID technology include cost savings, elimination of manual workflows, improved data collection and reporting, enhanced patient safety and more. 

While RFID has already had a significant impact on hospitals, health systems, distributors and manufacturers nationwide, the technology is on track to accomplish even more in the coming months and years. More drug manufacturers are adding RFID tags to medication labels at their facilities to help increase visibility and control of the supply chain – this has commonly been referred to as the “tipping point” for RFID adoption in healthcare and it’s happening today.  Additionally, as more healthcare executives become willing and ready to adopt the technology, RFID will continue to play an even larger role in the industry. 

We can expect RFID technology to help detect and prevent diversion, enhance workflows in the operating room, bolster the medical supply chain so that shortages become a problem of the past, alleviate feelings of burnout for healthcare workers and more. Below are just some of the ways integrating RFID can significantly improve everything from job quality to inventory management.

Preventing Diversion 

Diversion of controlled substances remains a critical, unsolved problem for hospitals and health systems nationwide. While healthcare executives have always recognized the severity of diversion, the COVID-19 pandemic made it more challenging for them to allocate the proper resources to address it. 

Historically, the necessary steps to advancing diversion prevention included various forms of manual surveillance and auditing – unfortunately, these processes require dedicated manpower, which healthcare facilities don’t always have in excess.

This is where advanced RFID technology comes in. Using automated tracking and data collection to eliminate the manual work that was once necessary for diversion control, health systems can simplify surveillance and auditing processes. Further, RFID enables healthcare facilities to easily store and manage controlled substances in a highly secure manner. 

Improving the Operating Room

The operating room (OR) is a complex and fast-moving environment, with multiple departments playing a critical role in the overall success of an operation. Anesthesia providers are tasked with managing inventory during surgery and administering medication to patients. Complementary to this, the pharmacy department ensures the necessary medications are available.

While anesthesia providers and the pharmacy department share the same end goal – to ensure patient safety – it’s not uncommon for the two to have disharmonious priorities and workflows, causing additional challenges in the OR. 

With RFID technology, workflows between anesthesia providers and the pharmacy department can be better integrated. The technology gives anesthesia providers an enhanced end-to-end experience, while equipping the pharmacy department with real-time data. Additionally, RFID technology automatically accounts for all medications in the OR, providing enhanced visibility and transparency. 

Helping to minimize delays, interruptions and distractions, RFID technology can drastically improve the OR experience for all.   

Strengthening the Supply Chain

Supply chain. It’s not just affecting holiday gift giving this year. 

The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly exposed and exacerbated significant holes in the medical supply chain. According to a recent Kaufman Hall report, 99% of hospitals and healthcare systems have reported challenges in procuring the items they need. This includes everything from medication to medical devices. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, hospitals experienced inconsistent inventory levels, causing shortages of critical medical supplies from personal protective equipment (PPE) to ventilators. Later, efforts to produce and distribute vaccines caused shortages of other critical medications. 

Today, healthcare executives fully recognize the importance of improving supply chain processes to help prevent delays and shortages of critical supplies and medications. 

While RFID technology has long helped with simplifying inventory management, healthcare facilities are increasingly using it for real-time tracking specifically to avoid shortages. 

Curbing Burnout 

Nearly 20 months since the pandemic hit hard globally, healthcare workers are continuing to experience burnout – a trend that’s showing no signs of slowing down, especially as nationwide labor shortages are affecting nearly every industry, including healthcare. 

Advances in technology like RFID tags help alleviate burnout by eliminating unnecessary administrative work for healthcare providers, such manual logging, thereby freeing up time for them to focus on what’s most important: quality patient care and safety. 

Looking Ahead 

As with all technology, innovation and improvement in RFID will continue, further expanding its capabilities and scope with time. While it’s true that some healthcare facilities have historically been hesitant to adopt RFID technology, it’s clear that this sentiment is changing, particularly following the unique hardships brought on by the industry-altering pandemic. 

Continued technological advancements, combined with an increase in industry adoption, mark an important tipping point for RFID technology in healthcare. It’s clear that this industry-altering shift will lead to increased opportunity for RFID and significant improvements for all, from hospitals and health systems to distributors and manufacturers to patients. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.