Hospital Uses RFID Tags to Keep Track of Emergency Room Drugs

Hospitals must regularly contend with medical emergencies, such as heart attacks or allergic drug reactions, that require an immediate response. Hospitals maintain supplies for such emergencies, known as “crash carts,” that contain equipment and medications for diagnosing and, if necessary, reviving patients. Monitoring and maintaining the crash carts requires the careful attention of hospital staff. New technologies, however, allow hospitals to track crash cart inventories more efficiently. One Baltimore hospital is using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to ensure that crash carts are fully stocked with necessary drugs, and that all of the drugs are up-to-date.

A typical crash cart includes multiple shelves and trays, all of which must be carefully and consistently organized. Each crash cart has a cardiac monitor and defibrillator, equipment for intubating a patient, and other associated materials. The nine trays in each cart at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore contain a variety of drugs for emergency use. One tray could have anywhere between twenty-five and seventy-five items. Maintaining a supply of available equipment and drugs, and making sure the drugs are not expired, is critically important for patient safety.

RFID tags are similar to barcodes, in the sense that they contain information that a computer can read and interpret. Barcodes require direct optical scanning by a device, whereas RFID tags need only be in the vicinity of a scanner. This allows someone with a RFID scanner to take a quick inventory of all tagged materials within several yards. The technology developed as a means of tracking cattle, but its use has expanded to include consumer products, automobiles and other vehicles, luggage, and even pets. RFID tags may one day be included in groceries, sparing customers a long wait in a checkout line. The technology is not without its critics, with some people expressing concern about the “Big Brother” aspects of tiny electronic devices that allow remote, often surreptitious scanning. In the context of a hospital crash cart, however, such technology could be very beneficial.

The University of Maryland Medical Center reportedly experiences at least two medical emergencies per day that require crash cart intervention. Hospitals experience an average of one mistake in five hundred emergencies, which the hospital felt was too high. Pharmacists inspected each tray of each crash cart to make sure they were fully stocked, and that none of the drugs had passed their expiration dates. That process, along with a follow-up check by another staffer and a written report, could take as long as twenty minutes. The hospital began using RFID tags in April 2012, which has cut the amount of time needed to conduct an inventory of a tray to the seconds it takes to run the tray through a scanner. RFID tags on the items in the trays, and on backup items in inventory, allow hospital staff to quickly identify what is missing from a tray and locate replacements. In a medical emergency, even a few seconds can potentially save a person’s life.

The Maryland pharmacy error attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen can assist you if you have been injured by drugs prescribed, dispensed, or administered incorrectly. Contact us today online, or by calling (800) 654-1949 to see if you may recover damages.

More Blog Posts:

Study Suggests that Electronic Medical Records Can Reduce Error Rates, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2012
Study Finds Use of Interpreters in Hospital Emergency Departments Reduces Medication Errors Almost by Half, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2012
Reducing Medication Error Injury by Keeping Health Record Journals, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, August 30, 2011

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