-Joe PleshekJoePleshek

I continue to marvel at the new use cases and rapid adoption of RFID technology within the healthcare and medical supplies sector.

As I do, I realize that healthcare executives owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the retail leaders who paved the way for RFID to become ubiquitous in that sector. 

Clearly, the tireless work done within the retail community, along with technology vendors like Impinj and numerous industry research groups, is laying the groundwork for RFID to be a successful contributor to other industries like healthcare and manufacturing.

Retail is clearly a first-adopter when it comes to RFID technology. And although things are moving a little slower in healthcare, where it can be more challenging to deploy disruptive technologies across multiple campus facilities, there are still thousands of case studies and hundreds of millions being saved by healthcare providers already using the technology.

By the time the healthcare industry reaches a tipping point for adoption, the price of RFID tags and readers will have plummeted to even more attractive levels, read rates will be near perfect, and the engineering challenges behind the science of RFID – such as its use with metals and other materials prevalent in healthcare – will be mostly resolved.

But waiting too long to deploy RFID is a risky venture – probably riskier than the chance those retailers were willing to take when they endorsed RFID while it was still a fledgling technology.

The time for healthcare providers, manufacturers and distributors to act is now, and here is why. RFID is a proven technology. Questions about its legitimacy were answered long ago.

In the retail industry, brands that have not deployed RFID already face a competitive disadvantage. Just like retail, those healthcare providers who do not consider adopting technologies like RFID risk falling behind of their peers.

Many people don’t realize this, but the competition is fierce between healthcare providers.

Some of the largest and most prestigious healthcare providers in the world have well-oiled and highly expensive marketing teams in place to attract more patients from outside their geographic territories.

With providers being continually challenged by insurance caps placed on the amount they can charge for certain procedures, many attempt to make up for the difference in volume.

So, moving patients through a healthcare facility in an orderly fashion becomes more important than ever. We all know that is one of the major benefits of RFID technology. The visibility provided by the technology allows facilities to check in patients faster and to find the medical personnel required quickly.

Some recently constructed hospital facilities have even been built without waiting rooms, because new technologies combined with RFID enable them to send patients directly to an exam room to be seen by a doctor.

It’s no secret that RFID provides tremendous opportunities to improve patient care, which is paramount among all healthcare providers, while improving the bottom line for your facility. How many technologies come down the pike that can make both claims?

Some of the patient care benefits include innovative programs to monitor hand washing by medical personnel. RFID tags embedded within a name badge interact with a reader near the hand washing area and record compliance for hand washing, a major factor behind hospital-acquired infections.

RFID also benefits the patient by ensuring that they receive the proper medication in the proper dosage, and that the medications are not expired. RFID-enabled storage cabinets like those manufactured by Terso Solutions also ensure that medications are stored at the proper temperatures. If the temperature inside the unit wavers from the desired range, medical staff can be notified through various automated responses.

In addition, these cabinets play a valuable role in making sure that stock levels don’t fall below given levels so that that the drugs and medical supplies needed by patients are always on hand.

Some of the facilities already using this kind of equipment are benefitting from an operational standpoint as well. The RFID-enabled cabinets keep track of what products are used during procedures, and often automatically bill the provider of the products, which are often provided to the hospital on consignment. This results in quicker insurance payments for hospitals, while medical suppliers providing products on consignment also get paid quicker.

Again, all of this is possible because of the innovative retail executives who saw the potential for the technology well before it was ready for prime time, and pioneered its use, ultimately at the item level in the retail store.

While the healthcare and medical sectors may not have the notoriety of being a first-adopter, the industry can gain equal satisfaction by knowing that it was a fast follower and that it laid the groundwork for other industries, just as retail did for healthcare.

Are you ready to make the leap?