RFID in Hospital Inventory Management: Myth Versus Reality

Dispelling 5 myths about RFID in a hospital

June 8, 2023

By Will Shultz, Principal Consultant, Emerging Technology, Owens & Minor

Despite RFID being proven effective and efficient for supply management across many industries, healthcare has been slow to adopt the technology to manage products used in patient care. Here are three common myths around the use of RFID for medical/surgical supply management and the reality experienced by most health systems and hospitals today.

Myth #1: RFID is expensive

There is a misperception that RFID technologies are cost-prohibitive for healthcare organizations, largely due to legacy RFID solutions that once required the acquisition and installation of RFID-enabled cabinetry that could cost as much as $40,000 per unit. Due to inventory volumes, some inventory locations leveraging these solutions feature more than 20 RFID-enabled cabinets, representing a significant investment for a healthcare system of any size.


RFID technology has evolved to the extent that there are far more cost-effective solutions for use within clinical supply chain – with new fixed and mobile RFID readers eliminating the need for expensive RFID-enabled cabinetry.

A catheterization lab leveraging a legacy, cabinet-centric RFID solution maintained a central supply core featuring 20 RFID-enabled cabinets to manage approximately 6,000 RFID-tagged supplies, recently upgraded to QSight RFID’s open architecture technology. Today, this same supply core is managed without the utilization of RFID-enabled cabinetry – with a mobile handheld now managing the space in its entirety.

Using a handheld RFID scanner, a staff member walks into the room, presses the trigger on the scanner and waves it around the room to perform a cycle count. This simplified modality brings the total capital investment in RFID down to under $5,000.

Myth #2: RFID is labor intensive

The thought of having to affix and associate RFID tags to supplies in the hospital setting can seem daunting, particularly given today’s widespread staffing shortages.


RFID association is a relatively quick and easy task taking as little as 20 seconds to affix and associate an RFID tag to an item. It is also important to consider that RFID is primarily used to track and manage high-cost/high-value items (e.g., cardiac stents, orthopedic implants), and not the tens of thousands of consumables used in care delivery (e.g., gauze pads, syringes). Spending 20 seconds to tag a $20,000 pacemaker to prevent its loss or expiry is a small – but valuable – investment of labor resources.

Then there are the long-term efficiency gains that come from RFID-enabled cycle count automation. While a clinical or supply chain staff member could spend hours or days manually cycle counting inventory, an RFID scan of a storage space takes seconds. It is estimated that automated cycle counting, and documentation enabled by RFID can result in a 99.7-99.9% time savings, compared with manual methods. Considering that these are ongoing processes, and not one-time tasks, the labor savings can be substantial over time.

Myth #3: RFID can be risky

While RFID-enabled cabinets are perceived as a more secure way to store and manage costly and heavily regulated items, open architecture RFID may sound risky. If these items are stored out in the open, wouldn’t they be at risk for loss or theft?


RFID open architecture technology can be deployed to manage supplies across perioperative and procedural environments without sacrificing the security benefits traditionally associated with enclosed RFID-enabled cabinetry. In reality, requiring badge access to inventory locations helps ensure that clinical and supply chain teams maintain better control over their inventories, as well as their storage locations.

After an authorized individual has accessed the storage location by swiping their badge at the access point, and interacted with supplies (adding, removing, or returning), the next cycle count performed by the RFID device managing the inventory location will automatically update inventory status according to any actions performed, and will notify end-users of any discrepancies (misplaced supplies, missing supplies, unknown tags, etc.).

RFID-enabled inventory management also supports patient safety by alerting clinical and supply chain teams of product expiry and recall information. As expiration date and lot number information is associated to the RFID tag during the association process, each time an expired and recalled supply is interacted with – during a cycle count, during an encounter, etc. – an alert will be displayed informing the end-user that an expired/recalled supply has been identified.

Additionally, the association of this information facilitates the configuration of custom alert and reporting capabilities, enabling clinical and supply chain teams to become aware of expired and recalled supplies, and their corresponding locations, before they present a potential risk to patient safety.


Open architecture RFID is a fairly new technology for hospital supply management; therefore, misconceptions around its cost, labor-intensiveness, and risk have perpetuated. But like most myths, these are easily dispelled by looking at real-world applications. The reality is that it has been proven effective and efficient, providing valuable benefits to healthcare organizations of all sizes.

To find out more about how you can leverage Owens & Minor’s QSight RFID to lower costs and gain greater efficiency, visit our QSight RFID web page.

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