Evan Bontemps is the President and CEO of Exavera Technologies Incorporated
How will RFID overcome the barriers that have prevented the adoption of barcodes and electronic medical records?
The healthcare IT market is looking to upgrade their existing paper-based paradigm to the electronic medical record. To cross the technology chasm, the IT departments must include wireless technologies into their network infrastructure. The earliest wireless technology adoption was optical scanning bar code solutions. The intent of bar code was to positively identify the patients through their bar code bracelets and match them with the proper bar code labeled medication to reduce preventable medical errors.
Unfortunately, bar code technologies introduce time-consuming steps to the daily routines of the caregiver. The bar code requires the caregiver to manually scan labels at close proximity because it is line of sight, and data must be aligned with the bar code’s optical reader. To read a patient’s bracelet is an intrusive process because the caregiver must manually align the patients’ bracelets to be scanned.
In addition, the technology has not proven to be effective in preventing medical errors because it is by-passable, and that defeats all intended clinical and operational benefits. In some cases, the caregivers are capable of printing additional patient labels to be scanned later to avoid the intrusive bracelet scanning doing the patient encounter.
Lastly, bar code solutions require hospitals to make expensive investments with no quantifiable ROI (Return On Investment) because the staff do not want to walk with a barrage of electronic and ergonomically challenged handheld bar code scanners.
Long-range Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) automatically reads the patient’s bracelet and any RFID enabled tag wirelessly thereby eliminating the intrusive processes found in bar code solutions. Since the identification of all RFID enabled tags is done without manual intervention, it is not by-passable thus ensuring the integrity of all encounters between the caregivers and their patients. Healthcare long-range RFID solutions are being integrated into the hospitals’ electronic medical record solutions. These integrated solutions reduce network complexity and simplify network deployments. RFID offers automated services and functions that are not possible with bar code systems and solutions.
What characteristics make a facility a good candidate for Exavera’s technology?
Historically, healthcare facilities had no choice but to deploy various technology solutions to address a specific problem in a particular department of the hospital. This piecemeal process translates to standalone or silos of technology that may not be compatible with legacy installations. Therefore, the hospitals learn to exist with the silo solutions and adopt a mindset that considers each of these solutions independent from the next.
Because of the inherent flexibility of an RFID-based healthcare IT application, one of its benefits is the ability to unify previously disjointed systems. For a hospital to adopt such solution similar to Exavera’s, it must possess a strong dedication to building an integrated IT framework. For a decision-making team to see the value in a RFID platform, it must have a vision of how the hospital will capitalize on the value of linking these previously disparate pieces into a singular process flow.
A given hospital’s potential to endorse and adopt an RFID-based program increases in proportion to its agility to execute on such a forward-thinking strategy. In any technology deployment, larger organizations tend to have committees and subcommittees, and so the feasibility study and the decision making process tend to be slower than that of smaller hospitals. The outcome of the study tends to be the same for both large and small hospitals, where the hospital would find a unified and integrated RFID-based application would optimize its workflow while eliminating process steps.
With this in mind, it could be said that the most likely opportunities for a deployment such as Exavera’s are Greenfield situations, where the systems are being created from the ground up. However, many hospitals with an existing infrastructure are viewing the scalability of RFID solutions as an opportunity to “leapfrog” over certain alternatives. In theses cases, RFID serves as cost-effective strategy, and technological foundation of their process as their needs evolve.
What role does government regulation play in healthcare facilities’ implementations of RFID?
During President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union Address, he stated his administration approved $100 million to fund electronic health record initiatives in the United States. This shows the government has a vision to sponsor healthcare IT innovation. The Joint Commission of Accredited Hospital Organizations (JCAHO) passed a ruling stating that bar code was the recommended best practice for patient safety, and the FDA had a similar ruling for medication. While Exavera commends these and other organizations for their visionary outlook and their work in promoting patient safety initiatives, the Company applauds the recent rescinding of the bar code ruling because it believes that mandating the means to be used stifles innovation and constrains the hospitals from being able to select the best solutions for their environments. The governing bodies should state the objectives and let the hospitals select the most suited technologies for their needs.
The new Healthcare-IT Czar, Dr. David Brailer, and Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thompson, endorse RFID as one of the technologies the healthcare market should look to implement to promote patient safety and optimize hospital workflow.
Given the often conflicting goals of quality of care and cost savings, what metrics should companies like Exavera use to demonstrate the value of their offerings?
In extremely general terms, there are three interrelated components necessary a healthcare facility’s success. They are: to what degree the operational infrastructure empowers its caregivers provide superior health services; the quality of the “patient experience” in terms of both safety and satisfaction; and the hospital’s ability to operate profitably.
There are numerous examples how an RFID-based IT application contributes to each of these objectives. First, the transparency of the technology allows doctors and nurses to accomplish tasks like accurately identifying a patient or accessing the proper charts or data seamlessly–without adding steps to the process. Caregivers can perform intelligent rounds because and can locate all their patients even if they are not in their respective rooms. Nurses can find the nearest available mobile biomedical device without a manual search. In short, the professionals working within the RFID model are able to focus on their primary skill: providing excellent care.
The patient experience is greatly improved, as preventable medication errors are minimized through automatic positive identification. The automatic nature of this feature is critical, not only because of time saved but because it also eliminates the invasive step of scanning a bracelet.
Finally, a hospital’s operating margins can be maximized through the adoption of the RFID paradigm. Through the streamlined process flow, staff members are working more efficiently. Assets can be tracked, optimizing inventory and minimizing theft. Unifying previously disparate systems overhead reduces IT complexities. Perhaps most importantly, preventable medical errors are reduced, eliminating their associated costs and contributing to the facility’s mission of delivering superb healthcare services to its customers.