RFID Technology for Orthopaedic Warehousing and Distribution

Written by Marvin Edward, DLSM

by Marvin Edward, DLSM

Orthopedics is the field of medicine that focuses on surgery on, or manipulation of, the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic conditions treated operatively and non-operatively with medications, physical therapy, exercise, alternate therapies or by a host of surgical procedures, including some that are minimally invasive and thus less traumatic to the body than traditional open surgery. The overall goal of orthopedic treatments is to preserve or restore the musculoskeletal system.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Radio frequency identification is a means of keeping track of objects using digitally encoded tags and a digital database that contains the information about every tagged object. In this way, RFID technology is similar to barcoding.

However, unlike reading barcodes, an RFID reader, also known as an interrogator, uses radio waves to locate tags and does not need to have the tag right in front of it to scan it.
In fact, the tag does not even need to be in the line of sight of the reader. Furthermore, barcodes read one at a time, but multiple RFID tags can read simultaneously.

How Does RFID Technology Work?

RFID belongs to a group of technologies referred to as Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC). AIDC strategies automatically identify objects, gather data about them, and enter those data directly into computer systems with little or no human intervention. RFID methods use radio waves to accomplish this.

At a simple level, RFID systems consist of three components: an RFID tag or smart label, an RFID reader, and an antenna. RFID tags contain an integrated circuit and an antenna, which used to transmit data to the RFID reader also known as an interrogator. The reader then converts the radio waves to a more usable form of data. Information collected from the tags then transferred through a communications interface to a host computer system, where the data can be stored in a database and analyzed later.

Key Benefits of RFID in Warehouse Management

• Smoother running business environments knowing precisely what and where inventory is, thus reducing out of stock items due to a more accurate real time picture of warehouse is available at facilities.

• Reduction in order entry errors (less manual intervention) and improved employee productivity.

• Instant access to the order database provides the on-the-spot visibility needed to cross-dock the incoming material for immediate shipping to fulfil customer orders.

• Advanced data capture capabilities, such as imaging, can provide proof of condition for returns records, eliminating potential customer disputes.

• A quick scan of a RFID tag provides instant verification that the right item picked, and it instantly deduct from inventory.

Orthopaedic Instrument and Implant Tracking

Automated asset tracking helps improve efficiency and save costs for warehouse, which tasked with managing hundreds of pieces of equipment across large facilities.

Warehouse staff may waste precious minutes searching for an implant or instrument. Delivery might delayed because a critical piece of equipment is missing. Automated tracking saves time and helps organizations avoid unnecessary purchases to replace hard-to-locate equipment.

This type of tracking also improves patient safety. Because of human error, it can be difficult to account for all of the required surgical tools before, during, and after a procedure. Incorrect instrument lists, untrained personnel, or time constraints also can compromise accuracy. Hand counting these instruments can affect turnover time for the warehouse, and compromise quality of care.

Part of the protocol includes verifying the items and surgical tools required for the procedure using a standardized list. Those items checked before and after the procedure to ensure that everything necessary is already in the operating room before the procedure starts, and to make sure that no surgical instrumentation is lost or left inside the patient after surgery.

Picture taken from http://www.omegasurgicaluk.com/rfid-chips-important-hospitals/

Security with RFID

RFID technology can also be used to secure certain rooms, cabinets or other controlled areas. Personnel can have ID cards that only give them access to areas where they are qualified to be. This means only those with authorized access will be able to enter particular wings or rooms or retrieve instruments or special assess implants from storage areas. This can help prevent issues of theft or simply an unqualified member of staff making a preventable error.

Verifying Sterilization

Sterilization is critical for preventing cross-contamination as medical devices used on different patients. If a device erroneously believed sterilized, it could lead to a serious infection. Fortunately, RFID sensors can handle the extreme temperatures required for sterilization. You can even program your RFID system to send notifications when a device is sterilized, which is a critical way RFID can help with quality control.

Maintain Inventory Visibility

Expired implants, empty shelves, misplaced product, and missing inventory are significant challenges in any orthopaedic environment. The inability to track and manage individual items can mean inadequate care and lower patient satisfaction.

Facilities and vendors need insight to the location and current state of inventory at the item level. RFID allows customers to manage supply and medical inventories in real-time for direct purchase and consignment. Real-time billing allow to bill immediately for products used.An orthopaedic implant warehouse arranged some of their implants on consignment at a hospital. Because the hospital only pays when the product is used and reported, they experience a significant lag between usage and revenue and high carrying costs. Compound this with lost revenue due to misplaced product and high stocking costs associated with manual inventory checking, and this is the reason most distributors and manufacturers are approaching to acquire automated, real-time inventory & order placement.

Real Time Management of Assets

Asset management is another field that finds RFID useful. Scanning and inventory control is much faster with RFID than with other forms of management, the system lends itself to integration with wireless communication systems and real-time inventory management systems. This allows you to query the database at any time and find out exactly how much of a given product you have on hand, instead of getting numbers that may be days or weeks old. RFID scanners built into the entrances of warehouses can even scan pallets as they enter and leave, providing instant updates of inventory totals that can propagate to other users across the company network.


When an order dispatched from a warehouse, the customer will receive information on when the goods will arrive. Goods that tagged with RFID’s tracked directly to the hospital in order to verify the safe arrival of each shipment. The data from this shipment can be analyse and compared to the expected shipment and any discrepancies reported and resolved quickly. RFID usage in receiving increases the efficiency of operations and accuracy of data by eliminating human error.

For example, medical device manufacturer Synths is employing radio frequency identification to manage inventory at both the item and case levels. Each case-level surgical kit has numerous parts. By using RFID to rapidly perform inventory counts prior to shipping, Synthes can confirm that the proper item has been placed within each kit. When a surgical kit is returns to the distribution centre, warehouse personnel can quickly conduct inventory and invoice the hospital for any used items.


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About the Author: Marvin Edward has several years of experiences in the field of logistics and warehousing, specifically in the Orthopedic industry. He holds the SIPMM Executive Certificate in Inventory Management and is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). Marvin completed the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) on September 2019 at SIPMM Institute.