If the tales of early adoption told by GS1conference presenters are good indicators, the healthcare industry has plenty of reason to be eager and apprehensive about universal tracking implementation. Providers such as the Veterans Health Administration and 473-bed University of Kentucky Hospital along with suppliers like Becton Dickinson each offered informative stories of success and frustration.
Chris Tucker, director of the Veterans Health Administrations Bar Code Resources office, talked about the challenge of integrating the 157 different bar code-scanning software systems currently being used by VA medical centers. The effort to capture and synchronize their product inventory information, however, drove the provider to establish bar-code printing standards for their vendors so that they could eliminate data errors. Now the provider is able to identify mistakes in packaging bar codes and report mislabeled productsa potential threat to patient safetyto the FDAs MedWatch program.
University of Kentucky HealthCare Supply Chain Director Jean Sargent said her hospitals adoption of a radio frequency identification, or RFID, tracking system for medical devices has turned up some interesting problems with equipment hording, misplacement and potential theft. Last week, my assistant was looking at the tracking system and noticed three tagged devices were showing up in the incinerator room, Sargent told conference attendees. When we got down there, the tags were there but not the equipment. So, now were trying to figure out if the tags just got misplaced or did we really incinerate those items.
As envisioned by supply chain experts, a global tracking system would assign a universal product number to every packaged drug or individual device that comes out of a manufacturing plant and into the supply chain. That number would actually be a series of numeric codes that identified what the product is, which company made it, which plant produced it and when, and where it is being shipped. Scanning the codes at various points along the supply chain would create a data-trail gold mine that could be used to facilitate product recalls, control providers inventor and costs, and gather post-market safety and efficacy information that could be used in comparative-effectiveness studies.
As conference presenters stories made clear, however, choosing tracking technology is bigger than picking the most affordable and convenient scanner, software and tagging systems for drugs and medical devices. Thats because any technology adopted now needs to be flexible enough to accommodate changes and additions to the tracking system as it evolves, said Jay Crowley, a senior adviser on patient safety for the FDA.
According to Crowley, organizations need to not only consider how a scanning system might track the movement of drugs and medical devices throughout a hospital, but also whether that system will integrate with a new or existing electronic health-record system so doctors will also have a complete history of which medical products were used on patients. We want to be able to see on EHRs, later on down the road if a problem develops with a device, who it was used on, said Crowley during a brief chat in between one of the plenary sessions on Wednesday. Its a very clear solution at 50,000 feet, but complicated when you get down in the weeds. We need to come up with a solution that will facilitate everything were trying to accomplish.
Reporter Shawn Rhea, based in New York, covers health technology issues.
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