Orthopedic surgeons’ firsthand experience with RFID-based hardware tracking systems

Radio frequency identification (RFID) has been used in orthopedic surgery for almost a decade to remotely track tagged devices and instruments via cloud-based software that can monitor location, models and configurations, expiration dates and other variables, with potentially significant advantages to patients and institutional operations. 

These benefits include potential reductions in surgical site infections (SSI) through streamlined access to sterilized devices and instruments, more convenient ordering, inventory management, transportation and billing. The next generation of RFID applications may include aggregated data analysis to assist institutions in better understanding their materials utilization processes and patient outcomes

RFID can also have a positive impact on time management and efficiency, especially for surgeons, circulators and other members of the OR team. According to a sampling of orthopedic surgeons across the country, integrated RFID systems like that patented by Gramercy Extremity Orthopedics (GEO), offer meaningful advantages in today’s evolving orthopedic surgery practice setting.

On SNAFU work-arounds – Peter Blume, DPM, foot and ankle specialist at Yale New Haven Hospital, in practice for over 25 years

“I was an early advocate for RFID tracking because it was a simple technology that had the potential to work around two highly complicated systems that were rarely integrated smoothly – central sterilization and inventory management.  Large hospitals relied on inefficient autoclaves and slow sterilization processes. Some external device manufacturers handled sterilization more efficiently but had their own logistical challenges. So it was a mess with surgeons and patients caught in the middle.  RFID has helped reengineer those systems and as a result, I spend less time with supplies, feel more confident in sterilization, and have better outcomes for my patients.”

On OR Efficiency – Jason A. Kayce, DPM, foot and ankle surgical specialist, Paradise Valley Foot and Ankle, eight years’ in practice

“I operate in a smaller orthopedics ambulatory surgery center that has never been busier, so systems that speed up my prep and help with faster turnovers are must-haves. These systems mean that the second I use a tray, it’s reordered and I can count on the next cart being fully loaded.  No down time waiting for sterile trays to be delivered. No being sidelined with paperwork.  One RFID integration that I use, the GEO CART®, even brings the online ordering function into the OR in the same cart with the pre-ordered trays, so it’s a seamless process. And because this system is so intuitive to use, the entire OR team is able to perform at optimal efficiency, which translates into better procedures.”  

On Precision  – Matthew Lawrence, DPM, foot and ankle specialist, co-Medical Director of Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgery Southeastern Region at Yale New Haven Health, five years’ experience 

“Aside from the obvious advantages of an online process over older handwritten paper systems, the RFID-linked automated ordering system I use indexes my past usage history and preferences for every device or instrument order I place – models, sizes, volume, even my own preferences. Then I can customize these defaults for unusual procedures with extremely precise specs and get the kind of highly customized hardware I need. These system are important but they’re just the means to the ends here.  They must be supported with a service that understands orthopedic physiology, surgical techniques, and my personal approach. But a well-integrated system pulls all that expertise online, on demand, so precision is not a special consideration.

On Flexibility – Elizabeth Hewitt, DPM, Podiatric Surgeon and Fellowship Director at Foot and Ankle Physicians of Ohio, in practice for 20 years 

“We all want to be prepared for unexpected developments and game time decisions during a procedure, right?  So pre-ordering trays can become an exercise in contingency planning to make sure you have the backup you may need.   Before automated ordering that tracks hardware, surprises meant new orders from sterility control during the procedure, which stops the team, keeps the patient on the table, and ruins your schedule for the rest of the day. And that’s assuming the right pieces are sterile or even in stock. With computerized ordering connected to knowledgeable vendors, the contingencies are automatically added to the equation and the tray order comes stocked to address variability.” 

Ask your sterility manager or device provider about RFID-based support for your surgical practice.


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