Here Come the RFIDs

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Radio-frequency identification (RFID) devices are small transponders that allow tracking and data transmission using radio waves. Typically, they are used to track shipments for inventory control, but they also guard library books and have thousands of other uses. They can even be inserted subcutaneously in humans.

Now, contrast-media vendors are using RFIDs to track how and for whom radiologic contrast is used, and to send all these data to an electronic medical record (EMR), PACS, hospital information system, or RIS. They require clear lines of wave transmission and a relatively small capital outlay, but they are being met with enthusiasm by health care providers and radiology departments.

At Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, a beta test with contrast and RFID technology is now underway. “There is an RFID chip on each prefilled syringe, which is read by the injector,” Gerard Durney, vice president of clinical services, explains. “That ties the syringe to a specific batch of contrast and tells you how much is used, and at what concentration for which patient.”

That information is now printed out on paper and scanned into the PACS, Durney says, but the goal is to have patient contrast information downloaded from the injector and then have the contrast data sent to the RIS and the EMR. “This is just the beginning,” Durney says.

At the University of Chicago Medical Center, beta tests have been done successfully, but no RFID system is installed, according to radiology professor Michael W. Vannier, MD. He expects an installation to take place at some future date. “We just changed the RIS, and I anticipate RFIDs will be part of the mix as we upgrade injectors. That’s one of the features we’re looking for,” he says.

He notes that the RFIDs can enter contrast amounts right into radiologists’ dictations and push the data across the system, rather than relying on paper. “It’s a big infrastructure change,” he adds, “so it probably comes with adding a new scanner, but I think capturing this kind of information has lots of benefits. It will make for better management, reliability, and record keeping.”

At the University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Va, imaging manager Charles Stanley is equally enthusiastic, although there are no contrast RFIDs deployed yet. Stanley reports that the system that he has seen can not only record and transmit pertinent contrast data, but can help automate inventory control and, more important, can prevent human error. The model that he looked at can block the injection of contrast until all necessary patient data and consent forms have been documented in the system. “If you have to enter all that information before you can even unlock the box to get at the contrast, then that’s a good thing,” he says.

Stanley, like Vannier, notes the capital cost. He also suggests that RFID use for tracking contrast might not take off until an RFID console and related transponders can be made to work with any manufacturer’s product. “It’s hard to be exclusive to one particular product if you’re in a university setting like this one, where you have movers and shakers who want brand x and brand y,” he says. “You don’t see too much Pepsi in Coke machines, but if the question is, is it a good thing, and a thing that would grow, I would say yes. I would absolutely consider it a blue-ocean step ahead.”