In times of tight budgets, healthcare facilities need to explore every option for making the supply chain run more efficiently. It’s only logical to fulfill this need with some of the increasingly sophisticated technological solutions available, including the incorporation of platforms that allow for the automatic tracking of devices and supplies.

To learn more, Surgical Products turned to VUEMED, a Seattle-based company that is integrating advanced technologies into healthcare supply chain management. Arnold Chazal, CEO and co-founder, and Lana Makhanik, COO and co-founder, answered questions collaboratively via email.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, can you explain the basics of RFID technology?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. RFID is a form of wireless communication that uses radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object. The RFID tags used by VUEMED are RAIN (GS1 passive UHF Gen2) RFID tags. A RAIN RFID tag can be read from a few inches to up to 100 feet away and does not need to be within direct line-of-sight of the reader to be tracked. This technology uses RFID antennas that excite and read the tags in combination with a special RFID reader that powers the antennas and routes the data to the Cloud. The data can then be managed and shared via web-based analytical reports.

(Image credit: VUEMED video/YouTube)

What options are out there for healthcare facilities who hope to use RFID technology to aid in their supply chain management?

RAIN RFID technology offers both hospitals and manufacturers tremendous advantages for their supply chain management. RAIN RFID is standards-based and easy to scale, and offers the complete chain of custody for all clinical items. Additionally, data capture is hands-free and reported live without any human interaction.  

VUEMED’s RFID solutions are UDI-compliant, and manufacturers and hospitals alike can use this UDI data to provide meticulous tracking of medical devices from deep within the manufacturer’s supply chain all the way to the point of care. This ground-breaking technology enables the user to see and report on each item from the time it’s tagged at the manufacturer — or “born,” IoT-speaking — through each step in its lifecycle, all the way to the point of care. As a result, healthcare facilities can achieve full traceability and visibility of all products, a lean and optimized inventory, effective expiration and recall management, accurate clinical documentation and billing, increased revenue capture, and compliance with the FDA's UDI regulation.  

The beauty of RAIN RFID technology is that it can be used with or without specialized cabinets and can seamlessly track products, assets, and people throughout a facility. With VUEMED’s RFID system, there is no need for cabinets — we can turn any area — whether a supply room, procedure room, hallway, or warehouse — into a fully controlled inventory space with full visibility of each item.  

Arnold Chazal
CEO and Co-Founder, VUEMED

What questions should be asked before pursuing specific technological options?  

There are many key questions that healthcare facilities must ask before beginning.  

First, they need to evaluate which types of products they need to track and manage, whether it be biologics, sterile implants, non-sterile implants, supplies, or commodities, and so on.  

Second, organizations need to determine their specific objectives and to prioritize these objectives in terms of what’s most critical to them to achieve in what timeframe. What goals are they trying to achieve with a new technological solution? Assurance of product availability? Lowered risk of expired or recalled items on the shelves? Accurate documentation of consumption at the point of care in order to ensure proper patient records and billing? UDI compliance? Reduced supply costs?  

Third, what is the timeframe in which they want to achieve these objectives? Is it within a few months, within a year, over the next 18 months, or longer?

Fourth, the type and degree of internal resources available within the institution are a key consideration. How much budget can be allocated to such a project? When will the necessary provider support be available to help on the project, such as IT, clinical management, supply chain, and finance?

Fifth, what is the scope of the project? For example, if accuracy of data capture at the point of care, including UDI, is most critical, this will require a different solution to achieve than the issue of inventory availability and traceability throughout a facility. Should the technology be able to scale quickly, easily and inexpensively, not only to products but also to assets and people?

Lana Makhanik
COO and Co-Founder, VUEMED

What are the challenges in the technology that users should be prepared to work through?

The biggest challenge is actually not with the technology, but rather with the process of evaluating the most appropriate technological solutions and with securing the funding and resources needed to actually get the project done. Most providers deal with many competing priorities, and organizational resources tend to be spread thin. Therefore, managing a project from evaluation to execution is always challenging.  

Both evaluation and execution require the involvement of several key constituents — with possibly competing priorities. The two overarching issues that are forcing provider organizations to overcome these challenges are the UDI requirements as well as financial pressures to be more efficient and do more with less. Thankfully, RAIN RFID technology tends to put the burden of getting the solution up and running mostly on the shoulders of the technology provider as it is Cloud-based.

How do you see this technology advancing with healthcare supply chain management in the future?  

As witnessed with other industries, the streamlining, automation, and optimization of their supply chain became possible through strategic investments in innovative technologies. The healthcare supply chain still suffers today from the failure to invest in technologies to run it, let alone improve it. There are too few solutions that interface well, many manual processes, and poor data availability or quality, resulting in a situation where there isn’t even enough trustworthy information for guiding the decision-making process of institutions.  

The transformation of the healthcare supply chain either needs to go through a concerted effort as was the case with government incentives and funds pushing for EMR, or needs committed initiatives by individual hospitals or IDNs to improve their painfully wasteful, and archaic processes and operations so that they can support, rather than undermine, clinical quality and safety.  

Either way, only technology can bring about the magnitude and quality of improvements that are required to make a real difference. RAIN RFID is definitely one of the most exciting and capable technologies for transforming the healthcare supply chain and taking it fully into the 21st century.  Because of its automated, nearly human intervention-free nature, errors can be eliminated and speed achieved.  

Also, because RAIN RFID is global standards-based and already adopted and endorsed by leading tech companies — such as Amazon, Google, and Intel — it interfaces easily with other technologies in the healthcare IT environment. Such standards mean that it is an effective enabler for adopting regulatory reforms such as the FDA's UDI mandate and standardizing data encoding and capture. Because RAIN RFID leverages the power of the Cloud, it makes it easy to collect and disseminate valuable and actionable data.

Now, with more visibility, unprecedented accuracy, speed, and standards, a technology like RAIN RFID can fuel the transformation of the healthcare supply chain and drive a wave of changes throughout the IT environment — not only in the entire healthcare supply chain but also in the clinical areas, which are key for improving patient care and safety.