Managing Productivity and Technology Adoption, while Fending off Rising Drug Prices and Reduced Resources
According to CBS News on Jan. 2, 2019, big pharmaceutical companies have collectively raised prices on over 1,000 drugs in the new year. “Specialty drugs lead the way with eye-popping price tags — current therapies for hemophilia are priced at $580,000 to $800,000 a year,” according to the Washington Post (Nov. 26, 2018). “Novartis plans a $475,000 price tag for its Car-T drug Kymriah, which treats non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
These rising prices, as well as shortages for many critical medications, is putting strains on hospital budgets and operations, which is ultimately impacting patient care. Rick Pollack, AHA president and CEO, said last month, “We are in the midst of a prescription drug spending crisis that threatens patient access to care and hospitals’ and health systems’ ability to provide the highest quality of care.”
What’s more, these issues are “…forcing hospitals to delay infrastructure investments, reduce staffing and identify alternative therapies.” (Source: ASHP.org). In fact, according to a recent report by NORC and the University of Chicago, between 2015 and 2017…
- “Outpatient drug spending per admission increased by 28.7% while inpatient drug spending per admission increased by 9.6%.
- Very large percentage increases (over 80%) of unit price were seen across different classes of drugs, including those for anesthetics, parenteral solutions, and chemotherapy.
- One in four hospitals had to cut staff to mitigate budget pressures.
- 80% of hospitals said that drug shortages resulted in increased spending.”
All these challenges are forcing hospitals to consider adopting new technologies to boost productivity and sustain quality of care levels. A primary area of focus for many hospitals is their use of barcodes on medications. This decades-old technology is the root of many inefficiencies, errors and impacts on patient care. New RFID inventory management technology is fundamentally changing and improving how drugs are tracked, traced and processed, leading to dramatic improvements in efficiency, accountability and patient outcomes.
The root of these advantages lies in the underlying technical differences between a barcode tag and an RFID tag. A barcode is a tag consisting of vertical lines printed on a barcode printer. These tags contain numeric or alphanumeric data which is captured by a barcode scanner and then interpreted by a computer. The amount of data contained within barcodes is fixed and limited to a few thousand characters. Furthermore, barcode scanners use an optical laser to read the bars. Therefore, line of site is required to scan barcodes, making the process manual and tedious.
RFID tags, on the other hand, are programmable computer chips read by RFID readers which use radio frequency for identification. Line of site is not required, and RFID readers can actually read hundreds of tags simultaneously. Some RFID tags can hold up to 8 KB of data, meaning much more information can be stored on them, compared to barcodes.
“By outfitting drug packages with RFID tags, companies can trace the path drugs take from the time they are produced to the moment they are dispensed,” according to the FDA.
RFID inventory systems can bring tremendous advantages to a hospital or health system, in the form of hands-free drug processing, drug visibility across the full supply chain, rich data which can be analyzed and turned into actionable business intelligence, dramatic error reduction and so much more. The result is freed up staff who can work at the top of their license instead of processing medications, staff who administers the right drug to the right patient at the right time, and a significant reduction in drug diversion. With RFID, hospital pharmacists can easily identify expiring drugs and recalled medications, thereby decreasing drug spend and improving patient safety.
In times of ever-increasing pharmaceutical costs, RFID is already helping hospitals across the U.S. reduce drug inventory spend, reduce daily inventory quantities and enhance drug processing efficiencies. For example, a large hospital system used RFID for its drug inventory management and reduce daily inventory spend by 17.2% and lowered daily inventory quantities by 10.6%.