Using RFID technology to reduce medication errors

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North York General Hospital (NYGH) is the first hospital in Canada to use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) as a medication management solution, significantly improving accuracy and efficiency within its pharmacy operations, and ultimately improving patient safety.

In a quality study, NYGH registered pharmacy technicians were able to achieve 100 per cent accuracy in restocking medication trays using MEPS Real-Time Inc.’s Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management System. The system uses advanced RFID technology to automate the process of restocking medication trays, which eliminates the potential of human error and reduces restocking time.

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“Our goal was to improve patient safety by reducing the risk of medication errors in the restocking process,” says Edith Rolko, Director of Pharmacy and Infection Prevention and Control at NYGH. “The results from the quality study demonstrated not only can we reduce the risk of medication errors with an automatic restocking system, we can virtually eliminate the risk all together. Using the data collected from the quality study, which measured error rates in the restocking process with and without an automated system, it is estimated the automated Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management System will prevent over 2500 medication tray errors annually.”

How it works:

A small RFID tag is placed on the medication containers. Each RFID tag contains product information such as manufacturer, medication name, drug identification number, lot number and expiration date.

When medication trays are returned to the pharmacy to replenish drugs that have been used or removed, each tray is placed in the Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management Workstation. The system will scan all the remaining RFID tagged items, compare them against the tray’s assigned drugs and quantities. It then generates a list of consumed, expired or soon-to-expire medications to be replaced in only a matter of seconds. The pharmacy technician will then refill the tray according to the list. As a last safety measure, each replenished tray is placed back in the workstation and scanned once again to ensure all restocked medications and quantities are correct. A final report is printed and sent to the patient care area with the refilled tray.

Before the automated system was in place, NYGH pharmacy technicians manually checked every medication in the trays. It took 8.5 minutes to review 78 to 138 medications in a single tray. With the new Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management Workstation, restocking medication trays only takes 4.1 minutes, less than half the time.

“The automated restocking process ensures patient care areas have the right drugs, in the right doses, at the right time,” says Rolko. “Manual medication checking was incredibly labour intensive and time consuming, and there was always a risk of human error. Since we began working with the automated system in October 2014, we have saved over 592 hours and eliminated the risk of error in the restocking process.”

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Today, with the time saving realized, NYGH pharmacy technicians can offer daily medication tray refills with more accuracy for high users like the anesthesiologists. The Department of Anesthesia was one of the first areas to trial the system and recognized the advantages. “The RFID tags have significantly improved the work flow between the Department of Anesthesia and the pharmacy,” says Dr. Richard Bowry, Chief of Anesthesia at NYGH. “In the past, medication trays were restocked three times a week, and we would often need to call the pharmacy to deliver additional medications. With this new automated system, the trays are restocked daily so the anesthesia team can be confident the medications required to do their work are available.”

Rolko explains one of the reasons NYGH chose the MEPS Real-Time Inc.’s system was because of the small tag sizes, which was especially important to the anasthesiology team. The RFID tags are about 1 by 2 centimeters in size and do not interfere with the actual medication labels.

“The quality study conducted with North York General Hospital confirms the clear and distinct benefits of using an RFID-based medication management solution to eliminate medication errors in tray exchanges and increase staff efficiency within the hospital pharmacy,” said Shariq Hussain, CEO, MEPS Real-Time, Inc. “Our Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management System provides a fast, accurate, reliable and easy-to-use solution for managing tray restocking so clinicians have access to critical medications when and where they are needed throughout the hospital.”