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Printers offer positive patient identification

With more requirements imposed on the pharmaceutical industry by the Food and Drug Administration on tracking the supply chain of prescription drug products, more healthcare industry companies are making track-and-trace technology initiatives to improve drug and patient identification. In June, the FDA stated that it considers radio frequency identification (RFID) to be a most promising technology for electronically tracking and documenting the chain of custody for prescription drugs. While not a mandate, the FDA's announcement will probably have positive, long-term effects.

One of the oldest and largest shared-services, healthcare group purchasing organizations (GPO), Magnet, Inc. (for Mid-Atlantic Group of Shared Services), Mechanicsburg, PA, is taking steps toward such improvements.

Magnet serves approximately 12,000 providers, including hospitals, alternate-care facilities and physician practices and clinics. It has a contract portfolio that includes equipment, services, commodities and a newly emerging area of niche/boutique (innovative and cost-reducing) products. Founded during the 1979 Middle Atlantic Health Congress, the company negotiates on the behalf of its hospital and clinic members. Magnet says it has a user-driven philosophy. To meet the needs of the individual healthcare provider, it employs a partnership approach, in which Magnet and its vendors can respond quickly to a healthcare organization's needs and to regional healthcare trends. Magnet and its member organizations provide vendors with data and firsthand information regarding what is driving the purchase of services, labels, patient identification supplies, capital equipment and more.

Recently, it signed a three-year agreement with Zebra Technologies (www.zebra.com), whereby Zebra will provide thermal printers, including bar-code and RFID printers, supplies and service agreements to Magnet's seven regional member organizations, which include hospitals and clinics. Some of these may use Zebra products to repackage medications within their pharmacies. All of them provide access to Magnet's portfolio of products and services through local groups operating in 20 states and in the District of Columbia. The individual members then purchase and use the printing equipment for the marking of a variety of products.

The agreement became effective on April 1. Explains Steven Duke, vp of Magnet, “Our mission is to provide our member organizations with programs and services that reflect the highest standards of quality, safety, reliability and service. We chose to partner with Zebra because of the broad use of its printing applications.”

Figures tabulated by the Institute of Medicine reveal that, though not widespread, roughly 7,000 deaths occur each year as the result of medication-related errors in hospitals. To combat this, on-demand thermal printers and related supplies can help reduce the adverse effects associated with medication administration errors by offering a compliant, precise, bar-code strategy that ensures positive patient identification and builds security.

“With the right strategies and technology solutions in place, hospitals can dramatically reduce the incidence of medical errors and improve overall safety,” notes David Crist, vp of sales for Zebra Technologies. “This agreement allows us to work with Magnet and its members to better meet patient safety goals and to improve the quality of care through proven solutions like bar coding and RFID.”

Zebra points out that according to the 17th annual Leadership Survey from the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) [www.himss.org] in Chicago, which reports the opinions of information technology (IT) executives from healthcare provider organizations across the U.S. on their use of IT, medical-error reduction and patient safety will remain top business objectives for hospital IT executives in 2006. The most frequently identified technologies respondents plan to implement in the next two years are sign-on/identity management technology, bar-coding technology, speech recognition and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Implementing RFID technology and participating in a regional health information organization (RHIO) could increase over the next several years. The report indicates that at this time, about four percent are implementing RFID technology for patient/asset tracking, but that figure is also expected to rise to 29 percent in about two years.

The jump may come for many reasons, notes Zebra's Don Gibb, corporate accounts director for healthcare. “The push nationally for an EMR (electronic medical records) initiative requires more information to travel with the patient, the medication or specimen. The potential for RFID is on the upside for now—most healthcare providers will be happy to implement the technology in phases. The cost savings to the healthcare provider can be significant; approximately $2,000 is saved for every medication error eliminated. Bedside point-of-care should increase by more than twenty-five percent in that same time period, and its impact will be equally significant, if not more so.”

Zebra's specialty printers used by Magnet's members include wireless, mobile and high-volume label and wristband machines designed to accommodate the healthcare market. The healthcare provider and an authorized healthcare equipment reseller determine the specific printer type most suitable. Models comprise but aren't limited to the Z4M thermal label printer, the H 2824 Z direct-thermal wristband printer, which is said to ensure accurate scanning for improved patient safety and privacy, the QL 220 and the Z4M Plus and S4M tabletop vial- and bottle-label printers, which can be used in high-volume applications such as at the pharmacy level. Desktop models (LP 3844 is one example) are also used. The R 2844, a compact RFID printer, is also used to encode smart labels at the point of use, among others. Gibb adds that members notice that the equipment can help solve process issues and are found to save time versus having to hand-write or key in so much information required for vials or for tests. “At this point, the hospitals are using the 2844-Z [RFID] printer, mainly to imprint patient wristbands with standard bar codes,” he adds. Adoption can mean a significant “shot in the arm” for hospitals. pital members are early adopters focused on patient safety and improving processes in the hospital, he continues. “Printing as-needed might prevent a sheet of labels from mistakenly being used to label a specimen or medicines incorrectly.”


More information is available:
Zebra Technologies Corp., 847/634-6700.www.zebra.com.
Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), 312/664-4467.www.himss.org.
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