Miranda Toledo is the Senior Director of Marketing at IntelliGuard, the leader in cloud-based RFID medication management for hospitals.
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Hospital pharmacies are tasked with the impossible job of managing medication throughout the entire hospital. The operating room (OR) and other procedural areas tend to be the most difficult to manage, partly because of the complex clinical environment. The relationship between anesthesia and pharmacy departments is often strained due to competing priorities. The end goal is the same: Provide high-quality patient care. However, getting there is a challenge, which has proved to be difficult.
Anesthesia providers are responsible for properly dispersing and managing inventory during surgery while pharmacy is responsible for ensuring all their medication are readily available and in the proper quantities. It is crucial that hospitals and health care systems invest in technology that offers a real-time track-and-trace solution that breaks down the silos found between anesthesia and pharmacy teams and connects the two workflows together.
Anesthesia care teams are hailed as special heroes in the fight against Covid-19. Now more than ever, it's imperative to give them the tools to provide critical, lifesaving care our communities desperately need. Implementing an effective medication management technology in the operating room has a direct impact on patient care and safety.
ORs are typically high risk and fast-paced. Along with the vital role of managing airways and other clinical tasks, anesthesia care providers are also responsible for administration of medication to patients. Most hospitals store medication in carts (typically tool carts purchased from hardware stores) and rely on anesthesiologists to handwrite administration times and doses on paper.
Just as important, challenges in the OR can also foster anesthesia provider frustration and burnout, and may influence compromises with patient care. And it doesn't stop there. Here are just a few pitfalls associated with hospitals and health care organizations lacking the proper technology to manage and control medication inventory.
Health Care Worker Substance Abuse and Patient Safety
While it's always important for hospital staff to monitor the proper use of all medication, narcotics — or controlled substances — are the highest priority. Statistics point to between 10%-15% of clinicians having abused substances at some point in their career. Typically, health care workers get medication by diverting from their place of employment. For anyone unfamiliar with the term "diversion," it is a polite way of saying stealing.
In Securing Narcotics: Standard of Care Evolves in Wake of Hepatitis C Outbreaks, Brian Thomas, JD highlighted incidents where addicted health care workers not only stole drugs from their employers but, in some cases, also administered those drugs to themselves instead of their patients.
In addition to lawsuits, medical board and nursing investigations, and negative publicity for hospitals, addicted health care workers who divert drugs from the workplace pose a patient safety risk to themselves and their patients.
The statistics for addiction are higher for anesthesiologists, likely due to job stress, long work hours and professional burnout, along with ease of access to narcotics. Even if access alone does not result in diversion, having tighter controls in place allows for earlier detection in suspected cases.
Derailing Clinician Focus
While it sounds like common knowledge, anesthesia care teams aren't hired to monitor OR medication inventory; they're hired to take care of patients and provide them with the best care possible. But without an automated system in place, clinicians have more often doubled as administrators for the greater part of the last decade. It's not uncommon for surgical staff to cancel or delay surgery because of missing medication. The cost of time in the OR is expensive. Saving time in the operating room not only saves money but also increases patient safety and satisfaction.
Growing Financial Burden
Health care providers face a complex and extensive barrage of challenges as they go about serving their patient populations. One challenge involves increasing accountability demands from regulatory organizations with decreasing financial resources. In complex and continuously evolving environments, some health care institutions understand the need for better medication management and are seeking ways to truly automate all aspects of the health care experience.
The Future Of Medication Management
Given the current climate of Covid-19, drug diversion and drug shortages, it is more important now than ever for hospitals to deploy technology in the OR that enables automatic product identification, saves staff time and significantly reduces the potential for human error. This is particularly important in an OR where anesthesia providers administer hundreds of vials or syringes used in surgery every day — all while ensuring the patient is properly monitored.
Today, hospitals have two technology modalities available for medication inventory management in the OR — barcode and RFID. Barcode technology controls access to medication, standardizes medication management and supports regulatory compliance. In addition, barcode scanning technology helps reduce the risk of medication errors on removal and during the replenishment process.
Recently, advanced RFID technology provides further visibility of medication in the OR by accurately accounting for all medications, including narcotics at the item level as well as full electronic health record integration. Medication administration, waste and witness events are tracked in real time, providing trends and alerts at the first sign of diversion. This technology offers a nondisruptive, user-friendly experience for anesthesia providers while providing real-time visibility and reliable data metrics for pharmacy. RFID technology has been needed for decades.
We now have the right hardware and software technology available so clinicians can focus less on manual inventory management tasks and more on what matters most — patient care.
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Miranda Toledo is the Senior Director of Marketing at IntelliGuard, the leader in cloud-based RFID medication management for hospitals. Read Miranda Toledo's full executive profile here.