The power of RAIN RFID for automating the healthcare supply chain

In a recent article in Healthcare Purchasing News, “Demand planning and forecasting: healthcare’s time has come,” the author Karen Conway opines that as a result of COVID-19 and PPE shortages, “the time has finally come for healthcare to embrace collaborative [demand] planning, forecasting, and replenishment that have proven valuable in other industries.” We couldn’t agree more. As we mentioned in a past blog, healthcare supply chains have been tested during the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that we did not think possible, and have exposed flaws and vulnerabilities with manufacturing, delivery, and inventory management and tracking. Demand planning in hospitals is one of the paths forward.

As Conway further notes, “COVID-19 has also increased appreciation for the need to invest in supply chain, with early evidence that providers with more digitized and automated supply chains fared better when managing supply shortages.” It’s clearly time for the healthcare supply chain to follow other industries in managing supplies transparently and accurately with technology solutions that automate the process.

VUEMED recently participated in the Demand Planning Workgroup of HIDA (Health Industry Distributors Association) and SMI (Strategic Marketplace Initiative) – a group that came together to create the “Demand Planning Roadmap: Competencies and Characteristics Required for a Highly Resilient Supply Chain.” This Roadmap provides direction for supply chain organizations with their strategic planning: “Successful supply chain organizations rely on a mature and proven demand planning process to enable them to quickly respond to sudden changes, especially in today’s highly dynamic environment.”

In this Roadmap, the Workgroup refers to the critical importance of RFID technology in making these systems resilient due to its capability in ensuring real-time inventory tracking. VUEMED has supported the vision of RFID-enabled automation for many years, and we believe strongly in the power of RFID technology to support these renewed calls for demand planning in hospitals and inventory management in the healthcare supply chain. RAIN (GS1 UHF Gen2) RFID, in particular, is extremely efficient at automating data capture, tracking & tracing, and ensuring inventory visibility across trading partners, all the way to the provider’s shelf, and then to the point of care.

Imagine this scenario: an item is manufactured, tagged, packaged, and registered in the Cloud. Its identity tag includes UDI data, readable by any standard RAIN RFID-compliant device or infrastructure. The item travels to a distribution facility or hospital dock and then to its storage location, the procedure room, and finally the patient’s bedside. Every step of this journey is automatically captured and tracked, with information about its inventory location, quantity, status, etc., instantly available.

This is not science fiction; it’s available today and is the path toward the IoT of medical devices and supplies. Using standards-based hardware and infrastructure, RAIN RFID allows any space – whether a supply room, procedure room, or warehouse – to be turned into a fully controlled and automated inventory space using existing shelving. Cabinet-free, hands-free, error-free.

VueTrack-RF™ is our RAIN RFID-based data capture version of VueTrack™, tracking medical devices and supplies in real time with 99.5% accuracy. VueTrack-RF uses Ultra High Frequency (UHF) passive Gen 2 RFID antennas and tags that are compliant with global standards (GS1 EPC) and the FDA’s UDI regulation. Among numerous other benefits, VueTrack-RF ensures product availability, optimizes par levels, and reduces inventory size, as well as automates expiration and recall management.

The work to make RAIN RFID a reality for an institution, however, lies not only in the technology that leverages its capabilities and the software application that makes it actionable for users, but also in setting up trading partner relationships where the sharing of the data gathered is the expectation and the norm, not just the exception or aspiration. The beauty of RAIN RFID is that it allows for the creation of a common item identity embedded in the RFID tag itself, which becomes fully trackable anywhere that RAIN RFID devices or infrastructure are deployed. As a result, the data doesn’t require continuous “translation” or matching work for each party involved just to confirm basic item information. 

The bottom line is that in order for any supply chain solution to effectively manage demand planning in hospitals, as well as supply forecasting and replenishment, the data captured has to reliably and accurately include information about inventory visibility and demand. RAIN RFID technology is uniquely placed to set up this type of visibility across the industry and at a scale necessary to affect real change.