Addressing The Impact Of Drug Diversion In Healthcare

Miranda Toledo is the Senior Director of Marketing at IntelliGuard, the leader in cloud-based RFID medication management for hospitals.

Close up of hand in rubber glove filling syringe


The past almost two years have left the healthcare industry vulnerable to risks that would otherwise not exist in a pre-pandemic environment. But without the necessary accountability tools for upholding systems that prevent drug diversion in the workplace, a different — and often overlooked — threat is looming. And, with abuse of controlled substances already an issue among healthcare workers, the pressures and trauma the Covid-19 pandemic added to the lives of many clinicians should not go unnoticed, for doing so could result in a decline in patient safety.

Healthcare Exposed: Vulnerability In The System

While the upkeep of data and information is important, consideration and innovation surrounding longer-term solutions that help achieve more equitable patient care and intervention are needed to better support larger healthcare systems.


Interoperability among healthcare solutions and technology that tracks and traces everything from vaccine rollouts to essential personal protective equipment (PPE) distribution is essential to connecting the many facets of the healthcare system. Solutions that reduce human error allow clinicians to focus on patient care. Many systems have faced supply chain and economies-of-scale-type obstacles during the pandemic. The past almost two years have caused formidable damage to many structures of the healthcare industry. The fragmented nature of the response to the pandemic was made easier not by the ability to scale and pull resources from across the country, but by individualized healthcare systems coordinating their efforts.

Proactively preparing supply chain efforts through the implementation of technology can help healthcare providers effectively care for their patients as patients should not be subject to any undue stress attributed to the gaps in healthcare systems that currently exist, which allow drug diversion to occur.

Drug Diversion: A Risk To Patient Safety

Drug diversion is an evergreen issue that affects patients and the healthcare system at large, not only during the pandemic. While it is important to remember that addiction does not discriminate, due to a heightened level of access, clinicians within operating rooms (most commonly anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists) are often the subjects of drug diversion. Nonetheless, because of the heightened level of burnout among healthcare workers, the opportunity to divert exists at any level.

Furthermore, diversion is seen to affect individuals regardless of their position, from top doctors to technicians. Unsafe care due to an impaired healthcare provider is only one of the threats associated with drug diversion in the workplace; others include further deterioration of the supply chain operations due to opioid shortages, patient exposure to infectious disease because of improper handling of equipment and impaired judgment.

Addressing Diversion Prevention Through RFID Technology

The utilization of cloud-based radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology allows different systems that communicate cross-departmentally to function automatically. Waste witness software that integrates with a facility’s electronic health record (EHR) system adds an extra layer of accountability that may not otherwise exist during times that are busier or when clinicians experience burnout. 

Staff buy-in is key to an RFID implementation, in my experience. During rollout, management should emphasize the benefits beyond preventing diversion. For example, RFID automates tedious tasks; once RFID tags have been placed, there is no further need to physically check in inventory.

As implementation nears, institutions should work with their vendors to offer on-site staff training to answer any questions and address any site-specific issues. After systems are in place, there should be follow-up training to ensure smooth operation. IT staff should have separate sessions with the vendor to be reassured that an RFID implementation will not interfere with existing communications protocols. In addition, using RFID route tracing, organizations should review every touchpoint and rewrite protocols to eliminate blind spots and insecure access. 

Understanding risk and preventive measures against diversion is not simply a box to check, but pivotal in the way organizations address patient harm.

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