Healthcare facilities: Using RFID technology to track orthopaedic implants

by FM Media
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ROGER DARLINGTON of Magellan Technology shares how RFID technology can be used for the tracking of orthopaedic implants, saving time and money.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is the wireless non-contact use of radio frequency electromagnetic fields to automatically identify items. It is increasingly being used in the management of the orthopaedic supply chain in Australasia and other regions of the world. The accuracy and speed with which individual components can be identified with RFID technology has led to it being used by a growing number of orthopaedic suppliers to check and track their implants.

A significant number of orthopaedic surgeries rely on the provision of a loan kit, which can consist of hundreds of implants and is supplied just for that procedure. Following the surgery, all items that have not been used are returned to the supplier. This process is known as reverse logistics and the checking of these kits pre- and post-surgery at the hospital can consume vast amounts of time.
In 2005, Zimmer was the first orthopaedics company to introduce RFID tagging of implants; in doing so, it made significant improvements to the efficiency of dealing with its loan kit operation. The company was then followed by Stryker, DePuy (Johnson & Johnson) and, more recently, Smith & Nephew.
Kits of tagged implants are passed through a tunnel reader at the supplier before being shipped for surgery at a hospital. A day or so later, the kit of implants is returned to the supplier and again passed through the tunnel reader to check what is coming back. These readers are able to identify the kit components in a fraction of the time it would take for a person to check them, typically identifying individual items at around 300 per second.
At the hospital, as the loan kits arrive, staff check off each individual component against the delivery paperwork. The kits are often sizeable and, depending on the operation, can contain many hundreds of items each. The consequence of missing implants prior to surgery can be significant and it is imperative that the surgeon has a full choice of possible sizes before the operation commences. Following surgery, all kits are again checked to ensure that all component implants that were not used are indeed present and being returned to the supplier. Failure to do this can result in a hospital being overbilled for items that were not used.

In 2010, Victoria Health purchased three Phase Jitter Modulation (PJM) RFID tunnel readers for its hospitals. As a supplier dispatches a loan kit to a hospital, an advanced shipping notice (ASN) is sent via the internet to the hospital and appears on a specially developed hospital software package called PJM Assure. The ASN appears on the calendar day of the surgery and, by opening the ASN, a full list of the component items is displayed. On arrival at the hospital, the tubs of implants can be passed through the tunnel without the need to open them and the items are rapidly checked off against the electronic list from the manufacturer. What may have taken over an hour can now take just a few minutes. The same software allows the usage to be recorded and then, following surgery, the tubs are again passed through the tunnel reader and the remaining items reconciled against the usage. Any discrepancies are immediately apparent including any items that have also passed or are near to their expiry dates.
At the conclusion of the process, a consumption report is produced, which is automatically sent back to the supplier and can also be used within the facility by the finance departments.
Since that initial implementation in Victorian hospitals in 2010, there has been a significant uptake in the use of RFID technology to track implants. In April 2010, NSW Health, as part of its Operating Theatre Efficiency Program, began trialling RFID technology to check and track the orthopaedic prosthesis in the loan kits and the success of this has led to an implementation across the public health system in New South Wales.
On the orthopaedic manufacturer side, there are a number of suppliers now looking closely at introducing this technology to their operations; for instance, Biomet NSW is currently introducing this type of tracking.
Going forward, the accuracy and characteristics of RFID technology, including the ability to read tags through liquid, are opening the way to new areas of study, not least in the tracking of pathology and blood samples.

Roger Darlington is the regional account manager for Australia/New Zealand at Magellan Technology.

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