The Source | August 20, 2019

Advice from the Field

An environment in which Leadership empowers an employee to take care of customers fosters trust and ownership. The difference between an organization filled with empowered leaders vs. empowered employees can be massive.


Response from Service Leadership Question

What Is RFID Technology and How Can It Help the SPD?

Author: Jason Rawlings, CRCST | Director of Clinical Services

With hospital instrument sterilization problems making headlines and patients filing lawsuits against hospitals for infections allegedly caused by improperly reprocessed instruments, the importance of running the SPD like a tight ship is more pronounced than usual. 

RFID: Then and Now

RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification, has the potential to replace bar codes for tracking instrumentation and has a variety of other applications that make it especially useful within SPDs. Using electromagnetic radio frequencies, RFID communicates between tags and receivers without contact or wired connections, transferring data stored in tags and tracking where tags are and have been. It removes the need for manual scanning (required by bar codes), which improves tracking efficiency and eliminates errors from missed scans.

“The RFID tag can be affixed to an object and used to track and manage assets, inventory items, even people,” Infection Control Today wrote in 2014. “In fact, RFID can manage the entire instrument process and provide alerts and even training tools wherever possible.”

With the constant movement of instrument sets from operating rooms to the SPD and elsewhere within your healthcare facility, instrument trays (or individual instruments) can get misplaced or rushed along before they’ve been properly processed. With RFID, you can not only find where a tray currently is, but you can also know where it’s been.

RFID has been implemented successfully in supermarket and retail contexts, as well as production floors and warehouses. Its use in healthcare isn’t new, but thanks to technological advances, its applications have grown.

Just a few years ago, RFID technology was not at the point where it could hold up under sterilization processes. Now it can. And according to Medical Design Briefs, “Rugged RFID tags that are designed to withstand the rigors of the healthcare environment, as well as harsh sterilization processes, can be used to automate aspects of the Joint Commission’s Universal Protocol, as well as meet FDA UDI requirements.” In other words, RFID can help your SPD promote compliance and implement best practices.

Three ways RFID can help your SPD

Track Containers and Instruments

RFID works automatically and doesn’t require manual scanning of RFID tags, which can be used for tracking in a variety of ways:

  • Containers: SPDs can already scan trays to a case cart and then use RFID tags on the case cart to update the locations of those trays. However, this still leaves room to miss transactions that take place outside of the case cart building, because nurses may retrieve containers and fail to scan them into the system. With RFID working automatically, RFID tags on the container level could resolve this issue, because the RFID would track each individual tray’s location—no extra steps (or scans) needed.
  • Instruments: If an instrument set turns up in the OR or SPD and is missing a tool, RFID tags on the instrument level can enable your department to locate the missing instrument and determine whether or not it has been processed. Instrument tags can also help SPDs find efficiencies in instrument sets by tracking whether or not instruments are used for procedures. If an instrument is consistently untouched during a surgery, it could be removed from that instrument set for future surgeries so that it won’t be contaminated and reprocessed unnecessarily.


Ensure Reprocessing Steps Were Appropriately Followed

To prove whether or not a container was properly reprocessed (without reprocessing it yourself), you need to know where the container was at the supposed time of reprocessing—and how long it was at each point. RFID tags can record the location information of each reprocessing step, from cleaning and disinfecting to sterilization. According to a research paper presented at the 2012 Industrial and Systems Engineering Research Conference, “The time duration of the [reusable medical equipment] in each location can give a clue to reflect the operation time of each task.”


Record Temperature and Other Indicators Within Reprocessing Machines

The temperature within a steam sterilizer is just as important as the amount of time an instrument spends inside the running sterilizer (if not more important). RFID technology can be used to track temperature, humidity, pressure, and other chemical or biological indicators. This data can show you if machines are failing to consistently reach the required temperatures or if the environment itself is not sanitary due to biological growth (i.e., mold).

RFID has the potential to collect a host of data useful for tracking trays throughout reprocessing and beyond, and there’s growing potential for RFID tracking on the instrument level (which could enable SPDs to optimize trays by sorting out the instruments that aren’t typically used). However, there are still challenges to overcome. For example, the technology cannot yet replace barcode scanning in order to associate trays with case carts, enclavable tags that can be read from 20–30 feet away are the size of a hockey puck—too big for smaller sets—and battery life is limited. 

Still, RFID has great potential for improving SPD tracking, and as the technology improves, this potential is sure to grow.

CtUC 2019 Philanthropic Event:

Speak Up for Kids’ Cancer

For the last few years, we've partnered with local organizations to raise funds and awareness during CtUC.  This year we're proud to support and raise awareness for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

St. Baldrick's Foundation is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to raise money to help find cures for children with cancer.  In 2017, we hosted a company-wide event where Judy Kibler, Cloud Architect (IT), shaved her head to support the cause.  May 2019, we decided to continue supporting this wonderful foundation.  Judy, once again, graciously agreed to shave her head! Plus, Daniel Roader, Director of IT, participated and not only shaved his head, but also his beard (having grown out for almost a decade). Watch the head shaving here!

During this year's Philanthopic event, we will be creating cards of encourgement for the youth, as well as other fun acitivities! 

We can't wait to show
you Nashville from the
General Jackson Showboat!

"Now that's quality!"

With a quality management system in place, you can better ensure that your SPD is taking the right step toward cultivating a culture of accuracy and quality.

Quality management has long been a goal and an aspiration of SPDs across the nation. But sometimes, in lieu of speed and efficiency, it takes the back seat. And without warning, simple mistakes can compound and turn into larger trends of neglect that run the risk of impacting patients.

Read today's spotlight on how you can create a system in your department that meets the recommendations set forth by ANSI/AAMI ST90.