Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

Leveraging RFID and IoT to Increase Supply Chain Efficiency

By Emily Newton
Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine

RFID and IoT technologies can strengthen the medical device supply chain and improve workflows. The following real-life examples illustrate the benefits that can be achieved.

Supply chain disruptions present significant challenges for MedTech manufacturers and healthcare facilities, and can turn into life-threatening catastrophes for patients that depend on medical devices for care. Fortunately, device manufacturers and hospitals can take advantage of well-established technologies to help improve visibility so they can prevent and get ahead of potential interruptions.

Using Connected Cabinets to Solve Identified Problems

Decision-makers often feel compelled to adopt new technologies after pinpointing disruptions caused by known issues. Such was the case with leaders at Johnson & Johnson, who needed a better way to monitor medical implant and surgical kit usage at a Mexican hospital. Their previous methods required manual inventory counts, which were prohibitively time-consuming. Plus, the associated inaccuracies often led to replenishment-related mistakes. After approaching representatives from the Israeli company IDENTI, the medical center changed to a fully automated approach. This transition resulted in 100% stock availability at the time of use. It also eliminated the waste and supply chain challenges associated with stockouts, expired items and emergency shipments. The success of this initial trial prompted executives to approve using IDENTI’s smart cabinet within its orthopedic division.

IDENTI’s platform combines data-capture sensors, smart cabinets and artificial intelligence. A mobile app and cloud technology connect hospitals or other facilities with medical suppliers, keeping everyone in the loop about average supply usage and additional details.

Installing RFID Readers to Trigger Automatic Reorders

Healthcare facilities are busy places, and employees often have heavy workloads. This means people might wait too long to reorder essential items once they run low. Such oversight can put a significant strain on the medical device supply chain.

Decision-makers at Stanford Health Care sought to reduce dependence on people to order supplies at the right times. The healthcare system has three hospitals under its umbrella. Each is a separate legal entity, but collaboration occurs through a shared supply chain model. The supply chain handles 96 clinics and about 2.5 million outpatient visits.

When it opened a new hospital in 2019, Stanford Health decided to incorporate RFID technology as part of its supply chain focus. Each operating room and hospital floor cabinet has RFID readers. The storage containers have tags that prompt automatic reorders whenever 50% of an item remains. The supply chain department staff receives information revealing the nursing unit’s available supplies, including the remaining percentages and the estimated time for a bin to empty. This data creates a detailed picture of how to best serve patients and employees. Nurses can use scanners in operating rooms to charge the costs of specific supplies to patient accounts automatically. Removing manual input saves time and gives supply chain specialists metrics about which products are used most often in particular departments.

Deploying IoT Tech for Better Employee Productivity

As a hospital’s size increases and its number of assets rise, it becomes more likely that employees will struggle to find the medical devices to facilitate prompt patient care.

University Medical Centre Utrecht has more than 1,100 beds and 11,000 employees, making it one of the most extensive healthcare facilities in The Netherlands. Leaders invested in IoT technology to strengthen the Centre’s device supply chain while helping employees make the most of their time on the clock. The chosen system includes anchors, dongles, tags and a wireless mesh system. All information collected goes to a centralized dashboard, where employees can search for specific medical devices or choose the desired item from a category. The dashboard shows accurate availability details, including whether someone can use it now or must wait for sanitization. Facility managers can also see medical devices grouped in specific hospital areas. They can then move those assets to locations for more efficient utilization.

Leaders seeking to deploy supply chain technologies must consider numerous factors before finalizing their decisions. Well-chosen options can increase time devoted to business priorities and minimize wasted resources. The solution installed at University Medical Centre Utrecht enables setting minimum and maximum stock levels for specific medical devices. This allows managers to ensure those items are available and in the right places when providers need them.

Tagging Items to Reinforce Loss Prevention

The medical device supply chain is full of essential, expensive items. Unfortunately, the products’ high demand and dollar values make them potential targets for theft. Sometimes, employees are the perpetrators of such incidents. Consider the 2021 case of a U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs worker who pleaded guilty after misusing an employer-issued credit card. The individual bought more than $1.9 million worth of devices used to treat sleep apnea. He then resold those products.

At another large healthcare system, cardiac telemetry packs were repeatedly misplaced. Leaders addressed the issue by implementing RFID tags. Staff receive real-time alerts if the $3,500 items enter high-loss areas. The notifications allow them to track other trends, too. For example, if theft attempts happen more at particular times of the day or in specific areas, that could justify hiring more security guards. Alternatively, if the losses stem from mistakes rather than theft, better visibility into when and how products are misplaced can be addressed through training or improved processes.

Tracking the flow of vital medical devices through busy facilities isn’t easy. However, these examples highlight why more leaders are choosing technologies such as IoT and RFID readers to make noticeable improvements. Facilities considering these technologies should narrow down which challenges they need to solve and determine the size of their tech budgets. They can then explore possible solutions and speak to company representatives to learn more about what specific products could do for them.

About The Author

Emily Newton, Revolutionized Magazine