RFID: What It Is and How It Can Help Your Pharmacy

Most pharmacies inside hospitals and medical clinics have systems in place to properly dispense medications without errors. But in spite of these internal systems, medication errors still occur. 

While technologies like electronic prescriptions and fines for mistakes via the Affordable Care Act have reduced hospital medication errors, a recent study of medications dispensed for surgeries at one top hospital found that nearly half of all patients were given an improper drug or dosage. In addition, drugs can be counterfeited or may be received and stocked in error at your pharmacy. RFID technology can reduce or eliminate these issues.

What Is RFID?

Radio frequency identification chips are embedded in labels or packages. They send out radio signals that are picked up by a networked reader without any need to be physically scanned like a barcode. When they pass by a particular checkpoint, automated systems can track their location and help ensure that the product is going where it needs to be.

Reducing Medication Errors

When drugs are catalogued and checked out via an RFID system, the chances for making mistakes are minimized. The system will alert you to mismatches between prescriptions and the actual drug prepared for patients. 

The Electronic Labeling Rule, published by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, requires all medications to be labeled with a bar code. For at least a decade, many hospitals have been using barcodes and a system of scanning patient ID and the prescribed medication before administering any drug. This helps to prevent the wrong drug from being given. The presence of this system may make the introduction of RFID applications easier as the concept of tracking medications at certain points is already in place.

Plus, RFID can replace barcodes with even more accuracy, because they don't rely on hospital personnel scanning the right items. The tag passes by checkpoints that can pass an alarm if the wrong thing is going to the wrong place. RFID is already being used on packaging where printing a full barcode would be difficult, like bags of blood. 

Decreasing Drug Counterfeiting

One lucrative counterfeiting procedure involves making cheap versions of popular prescription drugs, often with impurities or unlabeled ingredients. At best, these are completely ineffective, but in a worst-case scenario, the counterfeit drugs can cause an adverse reaction and injure or kill a patient.

Counterfeit drugs can and have infiltrated regular hospital supply lines as hospitals source drugs from around the globe. 

To reduce the chances of this happening, drug manufacturers can attach RFID chips to products as they leave the authorized warehouse. This tag can then be tracked and identified by the pharmaceutical company as it moves from manufacturing to storage to shipping. Pharmacies can check in shipments and ensure the drugs have been provided as promised without any tampering en route.

Increasing Productivity

RFID tags can make inventory management easy and allow hospital staff to have real-time information about existing inventory. In addition, using the tags and moving products through checkpoints can be easier and less time consuming than having an employee check in or scan all incoming shipments. Finally, if a drug has been shipped mistakenly, it can be identified immediately and replaced rather than waiting until the mistake is noticed and a drug shortage occurs.

Talk to your inventory services professional for more information about instituting an RFID program in your hospital or clinic pharmacy, or contact a company like Instant Inventory Service.