Medication Expiration Date Tracking with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:10 AM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Pharmaceutical Tracking

RFID-enabled medicine cabinets help keep valid medications available when needed; reducing the amount of unused and returned medication

Media coverage of national healthcare issues didn’t lose any momentum during the holidays or into the New Year. With HIMSS around the corner, the subject is actually heating up even more. It’s timely for us to revisit RFID in healthcare settings and how the technology is helping to improve patient care, make inventory and asset tracking processes more efficient and reduce overall costs.

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you took the Tylenol that had been expired by a month or two, or even a year? Probably nothing. When over-the-counter or prescription drugs expire, they lose their effectiveness. This isn’t a big deal if you’re trying to cure a mild headache with what you have in your medicine cabinet. But what if you’ve been taken to the emergency room because you were bitten by a scorpion and need the antivenom – and quickly? Industry best practices wouldn’t be all that effective because ideal supply levels in an Arizona hospital wouldn’t translate for a northern California hospital.  

A few months ago we highlighted a solution developed by ThingMagic partner MEPS Real-Time, Inc. that aimed to eliminate medication dosing errors and improve inventory systems. That same Intelliguard™ RFID solution is now being tested by a large hospital to track the expiration date of critical medications that are not frequently administered; such as life-saving, but slow-moving medications.

The system employs standard EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags and readers. A staff member attaches an RFID label to each medicine packet, consisting of a single dose. He then places each tagged item on the reader and collects the tag's pre-encoded information. The Intelliguard software is used to associate the specific ID with necessary information regarding that drug. Once checked in, the drugs are placed into an Intelliguard storage cabinet.

A ThingMagic M6e RFID reader module embedded into each cabinet scans the inside of the cabinet for a daily inventory. Hospital staff members know where the drugs are and what’s in stock at all times. The result is a reduction in the amount of drugs that are never administered because they past their expiration date. The Intelliguard system also automates the reordering process so that the hospital can ensure it always has an adequate supply of each drug.

According to an Accenture report from a few years ago, the pharmaceutical industry experienced about $2 billion in drug returns annually. At that time, Accenture estimated that RFID technology could cut drug returns in half. It would be interesting to see what the numbers would be today.

As usual, RFID tackles a few problems at once. While ensuring that uncommon, yet life-saving drugs are available - with valid dates - when needed, RFID is also helping healthcare facilities cut waste and automate operations, therefore reducing overall costs. I think we’ve seen this movie before. And all good movies deserve a sequel.

In fact, ThingMagic will be participating at HIMSS 2011 in the RFID & RTLS Showcase.  Please stop by booth 7381, kiosk #11 to explore how RFID can help you address your hospital safety, cost-saving and productivity needs.

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