Mayo Rolls Out RFID after only 5-Month Test

41 operating suites will get RFID tags and scanners to improve patient safety, productivity.

CEO SUMMARY: After running a test project for less than six months, The Mayo Clinic is preparing to expand its use of RFID tags and scanners, focusing on endoscopy specimens. By expanding the use of RFID, Mayo will implement the technology in 41 operating rooms, providing care to more than 20,000 surgical patients this year. Once a surgical nurse enters the patient and specimen data in the OR, the lab is able to use that same data to populate the LIS, thus reducing errors.

FOLLOWING A SUCCESSFUL PILOT PROJECT THAT USED RFID (radio frequency identification) tags to track biopsy specimens from operating rooms to the pathology laboratory, The Mayo Clinic will expand its use of RFID to track laboratory specimens.

On January 3, 2007, The Mayo Clinic of Rochester, Minnesota, announced that it was preparing to deploy RFID tracking tags and scanners into 41 operating rooms (ORs) this year. As many as 20,000 endoscopy and colon procedures are done annually in these operating rooms.

Technology Breakthrough

Mayo’s use of RFID to track lab specimens is an important technology breakthrough for the laboratory industry. RFID has the potential to improve laboratory operations and work processes in many ways. Mayo’s success using RFID is likely to inspire other hospitals, healthcare systems, and laboratories to follow suit.

The Mayo project is also significant because Mayo conducted a five-month pilot program in 2006, using RFID tags and scanners manufactured by 3M Company. During the pilot program, which involved five operating rooms and one laboratory, Mayo tracked 1,800 tissue samples from the surgery suites to the lab. The benefits identified by Mayo during this pilot program were increased productivity, reduced errors, and improved patient safety.

“The results of the pilot were compelling enough to both of us that we saw an interest to expand it and to continue to quantify those results,” said Bob Anderson, Director of Track and Trace Solutions for 3M, in St. Paul, Minnesota. “We believe Mayo is interested to expand beyond the endoscopy practice, but it will depend on the specific results from a broader deployment of RFID in endoscopy.”

“I definitely am carrying the banner to have this technology pushed through other areas of the clinic,” commented Schuyler Sanderson, M.D., Assistant Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, who oversaw 3M’s pilot program and spoke to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “For breast, prostate, and skin biopsies, this would be a very good system to track those samples as well.

During the pilot project, nurses at Mayo would place patient’s tissue samples in a container with an RFID label. They would then enter the RFID tag number, patient data, and specimen information into Mayo’s surgical database.

Minimizing Data Entry Errors

The RFID system saves staff time, because staff can confirm quickly that the lab has the proper number of samples for each patient, Sanderson explained. In this way, RFID tracking reduces paperwork, thus freeing nurses to provide more patient care. What’s more, RFID can minimize data entry errors because lab personnel do not need to re-enter patient data when the samples arrive at the lab. A swipe across the RFID scanner instantly captures the data, Sanderson said.

“Clearly, RFID has significant benefits in tracking specimens collected in endoscopy and surgical suites,” Mike Hansberry, 3M’s Senior Business Development Manager, told THE DARK REPORT. “Since nurses are very busy taking care of the patient, specimens that are collected may not be labeled until the end of the procedure, after the patient is wheeled out.

Pneumatic Tube System

“Many times, the laboratory is in another building from the endoscopy suite,” Hansberry said. “Pneumatic tubes transport endoscopy specimens to the tube room where are they are logged before they are sent to the lab. At each step, the database has the information on the number of specimens coming to the laboratory from each patient. At the lab, the specimens are logged in and validated against the information in the database.

“When the pneumatic tube arrives at the laboratory, the lab can bring up all the information on that patient and associated specimens in the database simply by using the RFID reader in the lab,” continued Hansberry. “Then, lab personnel can use the patient and specimen information to populate the laboratory information system. These steps eliminate potential transcription errors.

“The most significant benefit from RFID for healthcare organizations is in the area of patient care and patient safety,” Hansberry commented. “This factor is paramount to healthcare providers.

“Operational efficiencies are another source of benefits,” added Hansberry. “RFID allows the laboratory to see the number and type of specimens that are coming their way, thus allowing them to manage workload more efficiently. Further, the need to manually input information is reduced, which further improves data integrity.”

Wider Use of RFID Expected

THE DARK REPORT notes that Mayo Clinic’s decision to expand use of RFID was based on actual experience in using this technology. Its willingness to expand use of RFID tags and scanners in a stepwise fashion is a sign that it was impressed with the ability of RFID to improve patient safety, increase productivity, and reduce data entry errors.

In recent years, the cost of RFID technology has been a major barrier that’s inhibited use of RFID in many healthcare settings, including clinical laboratories. When used in healthcare, RFID tags must often be engineered to handle a significant amount of data, and that can increase the price of the individual RFID tags. However, advances in design and manufacturing allow companies to more cheaply produce RFID tags.


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