RFID Tracking for High Value Medical Inventory

doctorOnce upon a time, nurses and scientists working in hospitals and research labs would go to the supply refrigerator looking for a medical product or a testing kit.

The item might be there or it might not be.

If it was available, the person taking the product from the refrigerator might or might not remember to log the removal of the item.

If a scientist was taking a specialized testing kit, the kit might have gone past its expiration date, but the researcher would have no way of knowing.

And the company tasked with resupplying the refrigerator would have to take this incomplete inventory log and try to determine how often product was being used and by whom.

It was a story without a happy ending for both suppliers and end users.

So a company specializing in medical inventory started searching for a better solution. They brought together people from a variety of specialties, asking them to look at both new and proven automatic identification technologies. And the one that seemed to offer a solution tailored closely to the problem was radio frequency identification (RFID).

Around since the 1970's, RFID technology has been proven in many different applications.

RFID tags can be passive or active, meaning that either the tag uses internal batteries as a power supply (active) or receives power from the RFID reader (passive). The tag and the reader interact wirelessly and data about various events can be stored and read on the tag.

Going back to the inventory problem, RFID tags seem to be almost the perfect solution for managing relatively expensive products that are accessible by one or more people, often around the clock. Here's how it works.

Each item contained within the storage enclosure (either a refrigerator, freezer or cabinet) has a passive RFID tag. Opening the refrigerator requires an access card, and once the door closes, the RFID signal records which products were removed, who took them, and when the transaction occurred. The system generates an email automatically and incorporates the information into inventory, invoicing, and ordering software via a wireless (or cellular) network.

Here are some of the results when manual systems were replaced with RFID-enabled refrigerators, freezers, and cabinets.

(1) Reduced shrinkage - in this case unaccounted for or missing inventory - in each freezer, dropping from 35% to less than 1%.

(2) Eliminated (completely) hundreds of hours of manual inventory counts - every week.

(3) Prevented between $20,000 and $30,000 in losses from expired inventory - every month.

(4) Removed the need for paperwork associated with purchasing, tracking, monitoring, and re-ordering the items in the enclosures.

RFID enabled enclosures provide a host of benefits for both the users and the providers of products ranging from higher value medical supplies and lab testing kits to medical devices. Procedures and paperwork are simplified or even eliminated and suppliers can more easily target the specific needs of a a lab, hospital, or clinic. A company like Terso Solutions has worked hard at perfecting this technology and providing seamless inventory management solutions.

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