The recent focus on patient safety in U.S. hospitals has yielded a flood of new technologies and tools aimed specifically at improving the quality of patient care at the bedside. This has been accomplished by integrating the physical process of care delivery with medication information and software applications that provide clinical decision support, and quality and safety checks. Error reduction at the bedside is the lightning rod of industry efforts to address patient safety. Among technology approaches, bar coding solutions have risen to the top of industry preference due to their relative ease of implementation, demonstrated return on investment (ROI), and broad array of applications.
Bar code solutions are being deployed in a variety of healthcare applications, including producing hospital wristbands and labeling for pharmaceutical unit-dose medications, IV mixtures, lab and pathology specimens, blood products, asset tags, file labels and more. Bar codes can be matched with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to create two-tiered identification, resulting in more robust point of care, patient-specific medical media. Pharmaceutical companies can locate and track each dose of medication produced in vast batches. Hospitals can monitor and utilize equipment with greater efficiency, and healthcare staff can more efficiently create and maintain healthcare records.
The application of RFID technologies in hospitals has been modest, however, primarily due to cost issues. Like most electronic technologies, RFID unit costs have fallen dramatically within the past few years, but have not yet reached the "tipping point" of economic rationality for cash-conscious hospitals. In the 2008 Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, 15 percent of respondents said their organization uses RFID and 43 percent anticipated using it within two years.i To date, RFID in healthcare has been limited primarily to asset management and supply chain applications. Ultimately, a mix of both technologies—RFID and bar coding—will provide the optimal return on investment (ROI) for most healthcare providers.