Healthcare organisations are turning to Real-Time Locator Systems (RTLS) – a technology used to track equipment using an integrated platform that combines Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) digital sensors, software, analytics and system-wide wireless networking, to better manage inventory, says Healthcare Strategist at Dell EMC Healthcare and Life Sciences, Susmit Pal.

RTLS and RFID technologies are increasingly being used to track data on equipment usage, medicines management and may even be used to monitor newborns.

This means a hospital can always have the right medication in storage, in the right quantities, all the time, according to Pal. Medical equipment getting lost or stolen can largely be a thing of the past – as can baby snatching or switching.

Devices, medication and patients can be fitted with an unobtrusive transmitter, assigned to a particular area in the facility. If the device moves beyond its designated area, an alarm is triggered.

Medical personnel can then easily track down the device in question and determine whether it is a patient wandering where they are not supposed to, a wearable device accidentally taken, or an actual robbery.

Solving supply chain challenges

Previously the use of RFID was limited to drug manufacturers as a way to track drugs through the supply chain, but nowadays hospital pharmacists in the US, for instance, are using RFID to help them manage drug kits through the use of an automated pharmacy stocking system. Such systems could help South Africa’s public hospitals, who often face drug shortages, manage essential medicines more efficiently.

Non-profit organisation, Stop Stock Outs Project (SSP) released the results of a nationwide survey conducted in 2014 that revealed a chronic shortage of essential medicine including ARVs, vaccines and TB treatments. The SSP report indicates that only 20% of reported cases were caused by manufacturing issues and that the crisis is, in fact, due to failures within the state supply-chain.

In 2016, the National Department of Health (NDoH) acknowledged that ARVs are stolen from government medicine depots by gangs who manufacture Nyaope, a highly addictive street drug. Shortages were therefore not due to a lack of money, but because of theft and poor management systems, reported ITWeb.

In 2013, a collective of four influential NGOs investigated claims of corruption and mismanagement in the Eastern Cape – a study that was published in the South African Medical Journal. They found extensive theft of medication from clinics and hospitals, the non-delivery of essential medication and general corruption, the cost of which was already as high as R250 million per year in 2013. Patients were turned away as clinics ran out of life-saving medication; stock-outages lasted on average 45 days at a time and remained common.


Pal says the latest trend in the US is the theft of medical identities, known as ‘medjacking’. “Although these costs are high, there is a much greater cost associated with medical device theft – that of stolen medical identities. In fact, the act of stealing medical devices with the intent of selling personal information has become such a threat that a new name has been assigned to it,” said Pal.

Last year South African state attorney Kgosi Lekabe claimed that medical records are being stolen from public hospitals by syndicates and sold to private lawyers for civil cases brought against the government for medical malpractice, or to institute claims against the Road Accident Fund. State lawyers end up appearing in court with no paperwork to contest the case with.

Patient safety

According to Pal, an ecosystem of connected health, hospital assets from medical devices and equipment to tagged disposables, are all connected wirelessly to a secure network, is now possible.

While the obvious benefit is improved patient safety and efficient, streamlined care, another benefit is in the ability to reduce the rate of theft and misuse through better asset management.

Pal says most hospitals using RTLS see a return on investment (ROI) in less than a year.

“The benefits of digital sensor technologies like RTLS are clear enough at the micro level. They offer hospitals sound, cost-effective solutions to problems of theft, misuse and inventory management, along with added benefits to patient safety and staff productivity,” concluded Pal.

According to ITWeb, pilot programmes to tag new-born babies with RFID technology to limit snatching are already under way at a South African private hospital.

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