Many in the healthcare supply chain recognize the underlying value of automated identification (auto ID) technology to track products, processes and people, in the areas of inventory management, distribution and logistics.
However, people, processes and products also represent components of workflow that involve other areas and disciplines, too, such as environmental services and infection prevention, using electronic tools for tracking protocols.
That’s how KleenEdge helps healthcare organizations make use of tracking technology in a different way – one that involves privacy curtains.
“Hospitals have struggled with complying with their own infection prevention and control protocols in respect to COVID-19 for over 30 months,” said Darrel Hicks, Senior Infection Preventionist, KleenEdge. “Those protocols often include an Environmental Services team member exchanging the virus-contaminated privacy curtains surrounding the patient’s bed with a sanitized curtain. Neither bar coding nor RFID readers can provide real-time tracking of those curtain exchanges like NFC.”
NFC stands for near-field communication, which is a short-range wireless connectivity technology that allows NFC-enabled devices to communicate with each other, according to Hicks. The technology began in the payment-card industry and is evolving and expanding to include applications in other industries worldwide.
“The majority of EVS curtain exchanges involve recordkeeping by the EVS worker utilizing paper and pencil and then handing the written record to their manager,” Hicks explains. “The manager then takes the piece of paper and transfers the information into a logbook, lag time of hours or days. NFC allows EVS staff to scan curtain exchanges and communicate the compliance of IPC protocols in real-time without the chance of a piece of paper getting lost or misfiled. In turn this real-time data is relayed to all stakeholders, including purchasing, who has to ensure that PAR levels and future orders align with actual demand in the field.”
While the EVS staffer may not be tracking inventory necessarily, according to Hicks, that staffer actually is recording the replacement of a contaminated privacy curtain and tracking compliance with IPC protocols established for patient and staff safety. “In that respect, NFC is different than inventory management that utilizes bar coding or RFID as it enhances supply chain management by taking what is scheduled (e.g., periodic exchange) and augments by providing data on unscheduled usage (isolation room exchange),” he indicated.
Still, Hicks ties inventory tracking into the process with the example of the receiving dock accepting a shipment of privacy curtains with an RFID tag or a bar code affixed to the container. “Once the master pack is broken down, tracking unit packages to patient care departments documents what happens to the curtain stock,” he noted.
“Healthcare leaders are increasingly focused on lean workflow processes and having data that communicates the exact time and location the curtain exchange took place (what, where, when, and by whom),” Hicks continued. “Technology in the hands of EVS workers should be readily accessible for those conducting the curtain exchanges and needs to be user-friendly, as well as embrace a streamlined workflow for EVS staff.”
Hicks recognizes that cost and accessibility are “highly relevant points” to consider. He acknowledges that long-range RFID tags are costly and require expensive hardware – scanners can range from $800 to $1,200. Further, QR codes and bar codes can be time-consuming for frontline EVS workers as they need to first “raise” the camera on their phones and work through a “stepped” workflow process that can be very time-consuming and laborious, he notes. “Think of what this might look like if having to install 200+ curtains!” he added.
KleenEdge CEO Karen Goelst promotes the use of NFC technology for being:
- Accessible by multiple service providers with convenient access on any mobile device
- Web-based and bi-directional so no integration is required with multiple IT systems in multi-facility healthcare systems
- Able to receive data in real-time
- Lower in cost compared to RFID readers and tags
- User-friendly with streamlined workflows (no need to move camera for line-of-sight recording)
- Independent of geolocation needs as NFC UID wall tags define location
Goelst emphasizes hardware cost as one advantage over RFID. “To be able to passively reach RFID (included within RTLS) one requires wired readers throughout a facility,” she said. “The other way to ‘read’ RFID is through expensive RFID hand-held readers. NFC, being a subset of RFID, instead can be accessed by any mobile device, therefore making it much more user-friendly throughout a facility.”
Another advantage of NFC involves inventory after breaking bulk, according to Goelst. When the receiving dock breaks bulk deliveries of privacy curtains, for example, each individual curtain within the box or case may not carry any bar code or tag so the product “frequently doesn’t get tracked anymore,” she said. With the KleenEdge product, the EVS worker uses a smart phone to scan the product with NFC “so we close the loop from receiving to in-use. Once scanned to in-use the hospital’s protocol for exchanging is in play. This subsequently informs all stakeholders – including supply chain – as it relates to purchasing and inventory requirements. Naturally, as an additional benefit, at that point the hospital knows it’s in place in a patient room (the actual cost) and if they can recoup the cost of the curtain as a per patient or per diem charge.”
Healthcare organizations use KleenEdge “to explore monitoring and tracking as it relates to inventory requirement to conduct on-time protocol ‘periodic’ exchanges; labor and staffing allocation; the impact of isolation room exchanges, which can be up to seven times the periodic requirement; and the ability to articulate ‘unknown/variable’ use and demand for curtains, providing infection prevention protocol compliance and the a facility’s ability to prove such compliance,” Goelst said.
NFC tags can be affixed to many items for inventory tracking, including sharps containers, IV poles, bed covers, according to Goelst, “and with that you empower tracking of expendable supplies as well as rolling stock, while articulating protocol compliance for infection prevention,” she added.
Evaluating this technology for this purpose includes all of the familiar caveats, according to Hicks, including cost; accessibility; user-friendliness; time (for room turnaround); data, dashboard, isolation room exchange trending and reminders (which impact inventory and labor allocation/staff time); and protocol compliance.
Hicks recommends five tips when sourcing and evaluating these products:
- Select WiFi-enabled/cloud-based solutions that can also be integrated with other facility software solutions via API.
- Choose technologies (hardware, software) that makes the recording of curtain exchanges integral to the EVS processing of patient rooms and one that the staff will use because they see the value.
- Take a holistic look to see how technologies can “plug and play” together. How can they work for all departments?
- Transparency and accountability through data – You must be able to see a process in real-time to manage or improve the process.
- The technology of choice must move people from pencil and paper to proven technology to document real-time curtain exchanges for the record.