In July of last year, 3M (NYSE: MMM ) announced it had been awarded a $3.75 million, three-year contract to track and trace medical records for more than 150,000 service personnel at the U.S. Army's Fort Hood installation using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.
The contract is just a pilot program, but if successful it could represent a major victory for the Maplewood, Minnesota-based giant. The program could also be one of the reasons that 3M's CEO, George Buckley, has identified RFID as an important growth vehicle for the $22 billion company.
Well, just yesterday, 3M scored another impressive RFID victory -- and it offers an additional explanation for Buckley's optimism. Following a short, five-month pilot program, the world-renowned Mayo Clinic agreed to a larger contract, with 3M to provide RFID tracking tags and scanners for the 41 operating rooms where over 20,000 endoscopy and colon procedures were performed last year. (Full details of the contract were not disclosed.)
This development is noteworthy for four reasons. First, if the Mayo Clinic pilot project was successful enough to get that institution, which is known for its excellence, to upgrade to a larger project after just a couple of months, that suggest that the Army contract might be similarly enlarged.
Second, the fact that the Mayo Clinic upgraded so quickly strongly suggests the hospital found the system useful in either cutting down on paperwork and thus freeing up nurses and doctors to do more productive things and/or it reduced the number of data-coding errors by eliminating the need for administrators to re-key a dizzying array of patient data into computers every time a tissue sample arrived or departed a new location.
Third, if the technology is helpful for tracking tissue from colon procedures, then it stands to reason that it probably could be employed for breast, prostate, and skin bioscopies. To this point, the doctor who oversaw the pilot program was quoted in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying that "I definitely am carrying the banner to have this technology pushed through other areas of the clinic."
And fourth and finally, if 3M's RFID was deemed good enough for one of the best hospitals in the world to use, there's no reason to believe that scores of other hospitals won't be interested in exploring how they, too, might employ this technology.
To be sure, other companies such as IBM (NYSE: IBM ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) -- both of whom are pouring hundreds of millions into developing similar technologies -- will remain formidable competitors, but the agreement with Mayo is great news for 3M investors. And I won't be surprised if, in a few years' time, they can track and trace a healthy increase in the company's revenues and profits to this growing RFID business.
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