The use of RFID, or Radio-Frequency Identification technology, has already been in place in industries such as retail, automotive, energy and agriculture for a while now. But only in the past few years has it gained adoption in the world of medical device logistics and distribution. In this sector, the real impact of the use of RFID has been felt in the tracking and logistics of high-value implantable devices used in artificial joint procedures. RFID tags, when affixed to the packaging of implantable medical devices, can dramatically improve reverse logistics—a crucial, yet often overlooked, aspect of healthcare supply chain management.

What is Reverse Logistics for implantable medical devices?

Reverse logistics in med device often involves the movement of implantable inventory (typically kitted) and instrument sets from the distribution center, warehouse or office, to the hospital or surgery center where the surgery is being performed. Once the surgery is completed, the remaining kitted inventory that was not used and the instrument sets are returned to the origin warehouse, checked back in by reconciling against what was used versus what was returned, restocked with replacement inventory to complete the kit, and then shelved until the next surgical request. This cycle is often referred to as “Short Term Consignment (STC)” or a “Loaner”.

Traditionally this check-in process is done either manually by doing a visual inspection of the catalog number and the lotcode for the returned items, or via a barcode scan of the package. Either way this can be labor intensive, requiring the user to physically remove every item from the kit, read the product information on the box or scan the barcode, and then return it to the kit after it has been counted. In some cases, the returned items can number in the hundreds for a single surgery.

RFID labeled inventory can drastically simplify this process. For starters, the product does not need to be touched to be read. Often these implants are stored as a preconfigured set in a plastic tote. RFID readers can read through the plastic and identify all the tagged items within that tote. Also, RFID tags can be read in bulk, allowing for quicker and more efficient inventory counts. In most cases, the time to do a kit check in is reduced from minutes to seconds, allowing one user to do the job of many users.

In the video below, you can see the WebOps RFID solution in action at a client site.

An additional advantage that comes with using RFID labels on the packaging is that it gives an additional level of traceability. Every tag contains identifying information that makes it unique to the individual item. So, items that share a catalog number and a lotcode are now individually identifiable and tracked throughout the lifecycle. This becomes especially important in the event of a recall, quarantine, or product hold . And given the stringent requirements for traceability in the medical industry, especially in the United States and in Europe, accurate product identification and traceability is important to your quality assurance teams.

In conclusion, the integration of RFID technology into the packaging of implantable medical devices offers a host of benefits that streamline and improve reverse logistics processes. Enhanced traceability, efficient inventory management, real-time data analytics, and regulatory compliance are some of the compelling reasons to adopt this transformative technology. As healthcare supply chains continue to evolve, RFID will undoubtedly play an increasingly significant role in ensuring product compliance and operational efficiency.