RFID Technology Speeds Medication Replenishment, Reduces Med Errors


New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital has started using radio frequency identification to increase efficiency and speed when restocking drug trays.

Just a year-and-a half ago, the process of replenishing medication trays in the OR and ER at New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital was a time-consuming, and inefficient process.

On a weekly basis, a pharmacy technician would take the used tray and exchange it with an unused, sealed tray, and then check the medications to make sure the expiration dates were correct.

“We didn’t have data on what was used for each procedure, so we couldn’t document what was given to the patient immediately. We only had a paper record,” said Righard van Niekerk, BPharm, Director of Pharmacy Informatics.

“This process slowed-down our workflow, data capture, and charge capture,” said van Niekerk.

In response, the hospital conducted a time study that looked at technicians who were preparing trays, from beginning to end.

Because a pharmacist had to check all medications that leave the pharmacy, the study also looked at the time pharmacists’ spent to check each individual tray.

“Our study showed that it took about on average, 25 to 30 minutes for a pharmacy technician to replenish one of these trays,” said van Niekerk.

That scenario was unacceptable, noted van Niekerk. The target goal, he asserted, was to move to a daily exchange of the trays and cut down on the amount of time personnel spent replenishing the trays.

After looking at what the return on investment would be, the hospital decided to invest in radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to make the medication tray assembly process more efficient and at the same time improve accuracy.

Since its deployment at the end of 2015, medication tray replenishment went from 25 to 30 minutes per tray to less than 60 seconds per tray. “It takes them less than a couple of minutes to do the tray re-stocking.”

Here’s how it works

The hospital purchases medications from a vendor. They send them to a company that places RFID tags on the medications and ships them to the hospital.

“We don’t have to spend time and labor on making sure that the medications are tagged correctly. When it comes to us it is already tagged,” said van Niekerk.

Van Niekerk explained that when the order is received from the vendor, the medications are placed into a designated stock area. When it’s time to do the kit or tray replenishment, a technician checks the tray to see if there is anything that requires restocking and picks the medication from the stock area. If they pick the wrong medication the system will alert them immediately that this is not the correct medication for that tray by scanning it using the RFID reader.

“If you look at the amount of time we’re spending currently on preparing the trays and the amount of labor, we were actually able to redeploy some of the workforce that were previously doing this. We have about 1.5 people at the moment – we went down from 4.6 to 2.6 people.”

He said that since RFID deployment, the hospital met its return on investment in three months.

The capital expenditure, he said, was about $100,000, which included a workstation. Most of this amount went to the initial cost of tagging the drugs.

 RFID effect on technology patient care/patient safety

We know that the medication that’s in that tray is the exact medication we said it was going to be. We know that 100% of the time. Our double-checking is much safer because we’re removing the human factor and that the system is reading the RFID tag rather than someone having to check an expiration date,” said van Niekerk.

In recognition of the successful implementation of this process, NYPBMH has received acute care Stage 7 revalidation on the HIMSS Analytics Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model (EMRAM) for their use of RFID technology to improve distribution of medications.

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