How RFID improves medication distribution at Brooklyn hospital

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For hospitals, dispensing pre-assembled medication trays—many containing more than 50 drugs for different medical procedures—can be a labor-intensive, time-consuming task for pharmacy staffs.

However, New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital is leveraging RFID technology to reduce the cost and time required to manage its medication tray assembly process by automating tray dispensing. At the same time, executives there say the facility has improved accuracy and eliminated human error.

"The focus is on patient safety and improving the care that we provide to patients," says Righard van Niekerk, director of pharmacy informatics at NYPBMH.

By using RFID technology, the 651-bed facility has automated its tray restocking process, ensuring that every medication is accounted for, 100 percent correct and within expiration guidelines.

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"Prior to implementing the RFID tagging solution, it was a very tedious process and was also not necessarily the safest option, because we would manually restock or replenish the kits," adds van Niekerk. "We wanted to make sure that we provided a safe option to our physicians and clinicians using the kits."

He notes that NYPBMH's staff use RFID readers to ensure that the medications are correct, tracking expiration dates as well as batch numbers. "All that checking is now incorporated within the system," says van Niekerk. "Human error has been removed."

Further, van Niekerk points out that the hospital has reduced mortality because of sepsis by 6 percent, and reduced infections and medication errors. In addition, NYPBMH has improved vaccination administration.

Previously, two staff members—a technician to pick the medications and a pharmacist to verify the contents—were required to assemble each medication tray, requiring as much as 30 minutes per tray with the possibility of human error.

Now, the bottle-neck of trays that the pharmacy department had to juggle is a thing of the past thanks to the RFID technology, which scans the medications in seconds, replacing the manual tray restocking process.

According to van Niekerk, under the new automated process, the average technician preparation time has decreased significantly, from about 20 to 30 minutes (depending on tray complexity) to approximately 3.5 to 7.25 minutes. As a result, he says the total technician Full Time Equivalent (FTE) time spent has gone from nearly five FTEs to 2.5 FTEs.

In addition, the number of pharmacist FTEs was reduced from 1.5 to almost zero because the need for checking medications was completely eliminated—this time savings has enabled the redeployment of staff to patient care roles within the pharmacy department. And, when it comes to cost, the total FTE cost was cut in half from $1.2 million to $600,000.

And van Niekerk adds that staff satisfaction surveys showed that jobs were made easier, workflow was simplified, and patient care was positively impacted overall.

For its innovative use of RFID technology to improve distribution of medications, NYPBMH has received acute care Stage 7 validation on the HIMSS Analytics Electronic Medical Record Adoption Model. The facility will be recognized later this month at the 2017 HIMSS Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla.

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