A friend of mine recently took a family member to the emergency room for treatment. Fortunately things turned out OK, but my friend’s account of his trip to the ER reminded me of the true potential for RFID and other enhanced technologies when it comes to healthcare.
My friend’s experience seems all too typical of today’s healthcare experience — starting with a long wait in
the waiting room, where patients are exposed to all kinds of airborne illnesses. Later, a nurse had difficulty scanning the patient’s barcoded wristband on several occasions, adding further time and frustration to the process.
When it came time to be checked out, the doctor with sign off responsibility was nowhere to be found. And when he did return, he explained that the patient needed a change in medication, requiring another lengthy wait while the pharmacy filled the order.
Let’s take a look at how RFID is already providing a cure to some of these ailments at some leading healthcare institutions.
I’ve used this space before to discuss how Providence Health & Services, the largest healthcare provider in Washington State, eliminated waiting areas in the ER when it opened a new clinic recently in Monroe, Wash.
The hospital utilized RFID and RTLS technologies to allow patients to register quickly and be ushered to an exam room without waiting. A big benefit here is eliminating the need for patients and their family to co-mingle with sick people, where germs can easily spread. So the patient safety angle is huge.
Here’s what I like about the solution. Once a patient is checked in, hospital medical teams can track how long it took for the patient to be seen by caregivers. The system alerts staff if a patient is alone for more than 10 minutes at any point during a visit, and hospital staff automatically know when rooms are ready for a new patient after the prior patient leaves the facility.
I can speak from my own experience that I’ve experienced long wait periods of 30 minutes or longer without being checked on by a nurse or doctor. This aspect itself lends a sense of security and comfort to a patient who might be experiencing anxiety over his or her illness or injury.
I look for more hospitals to adopt this solution over time, not just because of the patient safety aspect, but because it allows healthcare facilities to move patients through the ER quicker and more efficiently, which can lead to increased revenues for the healthcare provider.
Using RFID and RTLS can also solve the problem of locating staff (and patients) when needed. I know many people who have waited for hours to see a doctor for an update while he “made his rounds.” More often than not, you might be given a two or three hour window as to when the doctor might arrive in your location.
With RFID-enabled badges, hospital staff can be much more exact at pinpointing the time a patient might be seen by a provider. That technology also would have expedited my friend’s discharge from the hospital and freed up a bed for the next patient. Again, this allows the hospital to move patients faster, a positive for the bottom line.
For my friend, the longest and most frustrating part of the visit to the ER was knowing that his family member had been cleared to go home, but still had to wait nearly an hour for the hospital pharmacy to fill the required prescription.
Well, the folks at Singapore General Hospital have figured out that obstacle. The hospital recently deployed an RFID-based solution within its pharmacy that dramatically improves patient waiting times, enhances patient safety and improves staff productivity.
The solution applies advanced manufacturing and supply chain technologies such as RFID and LED to the traditional clinical healthcare pharmacy setting.
Since the solution was deployed, SGH’s Outpatient Pharmacy has nearly cut in half the time required to fill prescriptions. As a result, 80 percent of patients now receive their medicines within 30 minutes or less.
Singapore General Hospital now uses 11 fewer employees to pick and pack drugs. Those workers have been re-deployed to run more dispensing counters, allowing the hospital pharmacy to serve twice as many patients as in the past.
Most importantly, the system has improved patient safety by reducing drug packaging errors. In addition, a pharmacist is now able to review all prescription orders before they are passed on to the patient.
Going to the hospital is never a pleasant experience, unless of course it’s a trip to a maternity ward to welcome a new family member (who hopefully is tagged with an RFID-enabled wristband.)
But emerging technologies like RFID are hard at work to at least make the hospital experience more palatable for everyone involved.