Shopping, sourcing for bar coding, RFID tools and vendors?

Aug. 24, 2022
Check out these tips and tricks before taking the plunge

Assessing vendors and evaluating their products and tools for bar coding and radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology need not be an arduous, exasperating exercise for a healthcare enterprise if the organization has a well-conceived battle plan and wholescale understanding of workflow issues.

Healthcare Purchasing News reached out to more than a dozen executives in the automatic identification (auto ID) technology space for their recommendations on how to compare bar-coding and RFID vendors and their products to determine which to adopt and implement. Sources were asked to explain benefits and costs, including downtime, education and training, integration and user-friendliness, among attributes. Here’s what some shared.

Jody Costa, Vice President, Marketing & Strategic Partnerships, Barcoding Inc.

“We recommend finding a company who can be a true partner, not a vendor. Find a company that will take a holistic, consultative approach that starts with understanding the tasks, workflows, people, cultures and goals of our customers. In a healthcare environment, that means understanding the jobs of those who care for patients, those who manage and maintain the facility, those in administrative roles, and the IT people who serve them.

“Any system, whether it uses bar codes, RFID or both technologies, has to be seamless. The partner company must be able to ensure the implementation has the greatest possible ROI by focusing on the end users’ on-the-job experience, making it smoother, simpler and more efficient and accurate.

“Look for a partner with deep experience who can help guide you through the solutioning ‘gotchas’ that can sometimes occur. A good partner will also help you make sure users are well trained, and that the appropriate level of tech support is part of the overall solution to minimize downtime and optimize efficiency from the start. The right partner should be able to provide the full solution - procurement, deployment, and support of a barcoding and/or RFID solution.

“At the end of the day, culture will often reign supreme. Find a partner who values what you value and has people and teams you want to work with. No solution is perfect so those that have flexible, agile teams with an eye on continuous improvement will be the best.

“A partner with specific healthcare experience or clinicians on staff is nice, but not a must-have. Since bar coding and RFID have been successfully deployed in industries like distribution and retail, look for providers with this broad experience who can bring those best practices to your healthcare space.”

Rich Leitermann, Director of Engineering, WaveMark Supply Management and Workflow Solutions, Cardinal Health

“Try before you buy. Implement a pilot program in one department. Track staff time savings, staff affinity for the new system, charge capture accuracy, and inventory accuracy over time.

“Determine whether the companies you are evaluating offer broad solutions. It may be the right thing to use RFID for high-value inventory and barcode or Kanban for low-value inventory. Pick a company that offers both and try a strategy that includes both.

“Look at the bench strength of the companies you are evaluating. How many engineers does the company have and how long have they been working on inventory management? How does the company staff its support functions and account management? Do they have a dedicated field engineering team? Does the company automatically monitor their systems and equipment and deploy software fixes over the network? Also check whether the companies are certified to the ISO 9001 international quality standard.”

[Editor’s Note: Vendors in this space do not offer free trials or “try-before-you-buy” programs. However, some say trials can be negotiated. Companies like Cardinal WaveMark encourage customers to start small in one area as a pilot and then expand.]

John Freund, Founder and CEO, Jump Technologies

“Start by understanding the workflows associated with each. You also need to understand how the receiving process is going to work and how items get tagged in the warehouse and in the sub-inventory locations. Understand how data flows to your [enterprise resource planning] and [electronic health record] systems for ordering supplies, closing purchase orders, and updating consumption information.

“It’s also important to understand the facility charges associated with RFID, along with potential compliance barriers you have today to determine how either technology will eliminate those barriers. And lastly, you must understand the labor costs, including the technology, and compare that to the margins you are achieving on the materials you are tracking. In many cases, you aren’t charging for the items because they are built into the room charge, which means any costs associated with handling the materials will impact margins.”

Jason Rosemurgy, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Terso Solutions

“When evaluating vendors, some of the criteria that providers should look for can be linked to the vendor profile itself. Experience level (not just with RFID but specifically with medical device manufacturers or providers), depth of engineering resources, market penetration, breadth of solution offerings and ownership structure are all important factors that should be compared and considered throughout the stages of vendor evaluation.

“It’s easy to focus solely on things like hardware or software pricing alone, but the foundational elements of a provider’s future technology partner are much more important. Providers are making investments for the future and need a partner who will be there for the long term, yet flexible enough to evolve with their changing inventory tracking needs. From a technology and performance perspective, RAIN RFID technology (UHF Gen 2) is by far and away the highest performing, lowest cost, most flexible platform for hospitals to adopt.

“I would also encourage providers evaluating any technology to dig deep on their prospective partner’s ability to support their ongoing needs over time, historical technology performance, and customer communication strategies. Taking the extra step of getting references from other customers of the vendor is also important, and if the investment warrants, a physical visit by some of the key project stakeholders to a vendor’s existing customer(s) should be considered.”

Scott Hondros, Vice President, Professional Services, CenTrak

“When considering RFID or RTLS, it’s crucial to take the time to assess the current pain points and the anticipated needs for the next 2-5 years. What are the strategic objectives for the facility or organization? Ensuring that you have the optimal architecture to meet those needs and that it’s one that can grow with your organizations on both the software and hardware sides. To ensure success, find a strategic partner that’s cost-effective, offers the necessary expertise to achieve your goals, provides ongoing support and training to reach full [return-on-investment] potential, and develops a well-defined and transparent business model.

“Working closely with a strategic solution partner can help alleviate challenges, provide consultative best practices throughout implementation, and ensure facilities optimize the technology for greater operational efficiency, higher safety standards, and the ultimate patient experience. If the partner also offers a comprehensive suite of RTLS solutions, it’ll be easier to expand the system over time to other aspects of facility operations and grow location capabilities. For many healthcare facilities, after seeing the insight provided and experiencing a meaningful return on the initial investment, leadership and facility managers are encouraged to develop the technology further and consider incorporating RTLS. An early investment in the right strategic partner allows leadership to improve the existing system infrastructure to better support healthcare professionals and the patients they serve.

“Healthcare leaders must consider the benefits of providing healthcare staff invaluable peace of mind and greater support as COVID-19, staffing shortages, and supply chain challenges linger. By investing in additional technologies and gaining strategic insights from on-site consultants, healthcare leadership can support their staff through the challenges faced daily.” 

James Moore, Vice President, Electronic Healthcare Systems

“Since compliance with any system is critical, user-friendliness is very important, no matter how good a system seems. If the personnel are not using it fully, it will be detrimental to the entire operation. Secondly, what are the true cost of the system? Do your due diligence. Do not accept only the supplier’s claims. And is there true benefit? How has benefit(s) been determined? Benefit(s) and cost are critical to the success of any organization. The technologies have been around for quite a while and are reliable. But training is important. Assuming there are no supply chain issues with the hardware. A system can be fully implemented in as little as 60 days.”

McLeod Williamson, Intelligent Edge RFID Solutions Specialist, Zebra Technologies

“We hear so many times that solutions have been rolled out in healthcare facilities only to never be used or be turned off. So, first start with solution providers that know healthcare, both clinical and non-clinical operations. A solution made for a different industry or not tailored to the specific workflow challenges being experienced will not provide the desired results.

“From there look for a provider that can clearly differentiate the benefits and trade-offs of multiple technologies and assist in choosing the best one for the current need. Also look for a solution that can deliver near-term benefits but will also be flexible and scalable as needs evolve. In other words, don’t just solve today’s problem, but keep an eye on the organization’s long-term goals in both growth and patient care, and make sure the chosen partner is capable of addressing each. With respect to return on investment, a good solutions provider will be able to not only clearly lay out the costs of the solution, but also work with the customer on quantifying the benefits that will be achieved, even some that might not be readily apparent.”