RFID, or radio-frequency identification, sounds and even looks like something out of science fiction, but it’s very real and hardly new.
It is, however, becoming more advanced, and that creates an opportunity for EMS agencies to better manage assets and reduce costs.
We’re probably most familiar with RFID through electronic toll collection systems found in a number of U.S. states, or the tiny tags implanted subcutaneously in many pets to aid in identification if they’re lost or abandoned. RFID is a wireless, non-contact system that employs radio-frequency electro-magnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to an object. It’s used for tracking and identification and can be particularly useful for inventory control.
There are two types of RFID systems—passive and active. Passive systems are the least complicated and offer a quick, easy way to take inventory of your assets. Unlike a barcode system, where each barcode needs to be individually scanned, passive RFID allows users to scan an entire area quickly—and all the assets within it—with the pull of a trigger. What once took hours now takes only minutes, as the information is relayed to a database through the wireless PDA scanner. Paramedics and EMTs in the field can just walk through the ambulance and scan, and the system will tell them which, if any, assets aren’t onboard so they can retrieve them from the scene before leaving.
The upside is obvious, says Max Petersen, business development director for EMSAR, which began selling its RFID asset management system, VuePoints, to EMS clients on January 1: “The system can be used to take inventory of assets in the office or on vehicles, and all items scanned are ported to the same software database for easy reconcilliation. Rather than using a pad of paper or spreadsheets, you can go into a room, scan it in about 30 seconds and easily identify which assets are present and which are missing.”
The active RFID system provides real-time visibility to assets and has customized alert capabilities. “An RFID reader can be placed into a building or vehicle and provide real-time visibility within that portal. It essentially becomes an RID hotspot, even if the truck is out on the road. At any given time the asset manager or administrator can go online, pull up a website specific to them and find the location of an asset—not only which truck that asset is on, but whether it’s in the correct truck or out of the truck altogether.”
And the active RFID system allows alerts to be set up for specific assets. For example, if a stretcher needs to be preventatively maintained, an alert can be pre-set to go out to the system administrator via text message on a certain day to remind them of scheduled maintenance. Also included in EMSAR’s active RFID system is a temperature and tamper sensor for drug boxes. So, if somebody breaks into a drug box it will send an alert. If the temperature gets too high or low and those drugs are going to expire based on temperature, it will send an alert. The active RFID system “provides more real-time solutions to managing the expensive assets that exist on that truck,” says Petersen. “And it provides a degree of accountability on the medics, to accept or reject that they have all their equipment that they took to the scene.”
The capital system itself is not cost prohibitive, and it’s relatively easy to implement, too. Petersen says EMSAR works directly with customers to customize the system to exactly what they want to see. Depending on the size of the system, installation takes approximately three to four hours per portal. That includes tagging items, uploading those items into the database and putting in the hardware, whether in the truck or the building. And the system is completely scalable; it can be implemented a piece at a time or all at once, and implemented both passively and actively, so the systems can interface with one another.