Spyglass recently completed a study of RFID use in healthcare. Can you characterize what the main takeaways were?
MALKARY: One of the biggest findings was that RFID health care investments are experiencing explosive growth. We found that 76% of the larger healthcare organizations interviewed are utilizing these solutions primarily for the tracking of high volume, mobile assets, patients and staff, representing a 200 and 400% increase from a similar study we did in 2005.
Who do you talk to for such studies?
MALKARY: We talk to different constituent groups within the respective organizations, like directors of clinical engineering, materials management, pharmacy, laboratories and medical nursing informatics. Folks who are really tuned to the departmental based applications being deployed in an acute care settings; larger hospitals, regional hospitals, academic medical centers.
We focus on larger organizations because it is there you have a greater chance to lose things, and a greater need to track items.
When they enter into thinking about RFID, or actually using it, what kind of needs are they addressing?
MALKARY: They are trying to automate processes that don’t utilize technology today at all.
For example, if you look at clinical engineering, their job is to do preventive maintenance on equipment on a regular basis. Frequently they can’t find that equipment, anywhere between 20-25% of the objects.
As a result they have to overbuy. They are using paper today. Now they have a chance to use a form of automation and quickly find the equipment they need.
Do you find any particular parts of a hospital or acute facility operation that are most in need of this?
MALKARY: Clinical engineering or biomedical engineering tracks these assets. There is also a huge need to be able to track patients. And we are seeing this in particular, where needed for protection systems, which are actually quite pervasive around the country.
Although most people don’t know they are really associated with RFID. Also for tracking of a patient, particularly in high utilization areas like the emergency department and in the operating room.
Are they combining the tracking of patients and the equipment, itself, in terms of knowing what equipment is being used by a particular patient, that sort of thing?
MALKARY: That would be nice if they were.
I think in a very small subset of hospitals they are combining the tracking of assets, patients and staff to create clinical context that might be integrated with the electronic medical records system.
We have heard in the past about hospitals losing leased equipment and then having to replace it the time came to return it. Have you run across any of that sort of thing?
MALKARY: Oh, yeah, they lose money on a daily basis for returning it late. But if you can’t find the equipment, you have no choice. So, that actually is a big problem to their bottom line.
Who, in the hospital, is the driver of moving towards RFID, or any sort of technology?
MALKARY: I would love to say it is the CIO, but it is not. It is really a departmental solution today. So, it is really the director level, or department head, who is driven to implement these solutions where there is a compelling ROI from a departmental perspective.
Based on someone’s job title, do you see a different approach or a different point of view in approaching RFID?
MALKARY: It really comes down to solving business problems. Every department head has different problems they are trying to solve which might affect their bottom line.
So if you look at clinical engineering, they are concerned about finding the equipment and doing preventive maintenance. The head of a pharmacy, though, has a much different need. They are actually seeing opportunities for using passive RFID in order to track high cost drugs, or high risk drugs.
Which of these folks would get the most benefit out of reading your report, or is it mostly aimed at vendors?
MALKARY: I think it is across the board. A wide range of vendors would certainly benefit – health care IT vendors, networking vendors, business intelligence vendors, would better understand what the opportunities and challenges are. You can better understand where, in particular, in a hospital it can be utilized.
Is there anything you found that was most surprising after doing this study? Anything that you weren’t expecting to hear about?
MALKARY: Yes. I think it was the degree, the size and scope of the trials going on, because there hasn’t been a lot of information in the media lately.
We did a study a few years ago, they were tracking several hundred objects; now they are tracking several thousand. And after getting the short term results, just increasing the scope of the project and also the number of projects. ‘Hey, I am using RFID to track assets, oh, I can also use it to track staff or patients.’ To be able to leverage that same capability.
The other surprising finding came in terms of the abundance of different solutions, as it relates to the network. A few years ago, people would only consider leveraging their existing Wi-Fi based network. Now they are actually considering it for priority solution because you have increased accuracy, a level of clarity.