Travis tests implant tracking system

  • Published
  • By Merrie Schilter-Lowe
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Every year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recalls thousands of medical devices and tissue implants for a variety of reasons, including safety. 


Locating an implant patient could take hours, if not days, based on the date of the surgery and the patient’s location.      


Now, a unique device identification system will allow David Grant USAF Medical Center and the 60th Dental Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, California, to track implant patients in minutes with just a few keystrokes.


Travis is one of eight bases selected to test UDITracker, a secure web-based program that allows medical facilities to meet regulatory requirements, manage inventory, track warranty and product recall information and match patients to implants.


“This system provides a central database available to military treatment facilities worldwide, standardizing the many different processes currently available,” said Maj. (Dr.) James Cox, 27th Special Operations Medical Group chief of medical staff at Cannon AFB, New Mexico. 


Inspired to prevent adverse harm to Air Force patients who receive implants such as skin grafts, artificial joints and cardiac defibrillators and pacemakers, Cox headed a continuous process improvement team that identified the need for a standard implant tracking system.     


“Our team also discovered that Air Force medical and dental facilities alike displayed great variability in their implant tracking processes,” said Cox.


The team contacted dozens of bases and found “they were using everything from pen and paper ledger kept in a cabinet” to a sophisticated database set up by a computer expert, said Cox, who also has a background in computers. 


“The one commonality was that none of these homebrewed systems were accessible outside of their department or the military treatment facility.”    

As the principal investigator for the two-year pilot program, Cox visited Travis in April with the company that designed and maintains UDITracker to stand up the system at DGMC and the dental clinic.   

“The FDA, Joint Commission and the Air Force surgeon general requires that we know where the tissue is from the time it arrives,” said Maj. Raffy Mendoza, 60th Medial Group sterile processing and distributing facility tissue manager.  “We were doing that with binders going back years.  Now we can use UDITracker to track items from the loading dock until it’s either implanted in a patient or discarded.” 

Hospitals are not required to track a patient’s bone or tissue taken from one part of the body and implanted in another.


“We track anything that comes from a source – like a cadaver – that could potentially harbor disease or anything that the recipient could potentially reject,” said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Ryan Diepenbrock, 60th MDG oral and maxillofacial surgery program director.    

DGMC maintains a tissue and non-tissue inventory worth millions of dollars, said Diepenbrock, who is a facial cosmetic surgeon and the human cellular and tissue tracking point of contact for the medical center. 

The oral and maxillofacial department uses the most implants followed by the dental clinic and operating room.

“Now we truly have a way to track our patients across the Department of Defense.  That’s the long-term advantage,” said Diepenbrock.

Access to UDITracker is password protected.  Items are scanned into the system by their barcode.  Not only does this speed up the documentation process, but also reduces the possibility of human error, said Maj. Dennis Barber, 60th MDG clinical nurse and non-tissue manager for the operating room. 

Once an item is in the system, technicians can locate it by the name, manufacturer, reference numbers, surgery date, surgeon or expiration date.  Patients are identified by their DOD identification number so no personally identifiable information is disclosed. 

“Seeing the expiration date makes it easier to manage the inventory for items that are constantly being received and used and ensures nothing expired gets sent to the operating room,” said Barber.  The system also makes it easier to manage the inventory, he said.   

“We can see what’s on the shelf and what we need to order,” said Barber.  The system even shows if the item is refrigerated or not (and) how to make tissue viable for surgery.” 

Staff also can scan barcodes on implants and tissue requested by a surgeon to ensure they have not been recalled. 

The FDA recalls items that are defective, could be a health risk or are both defective and a health risk.  Items are also recalled “for everything from packaging errors to premature warranty expiration,” said Diepenbrock. 

Several weeks after UDITracker was installed at DGMC, the system notified Barber’s department that 12 implants in the inventory had been recalled. 

“The notice listed the reason for the recall with a contact number for questions and replacements,” said Barber.  

“In the past, we had to wait for a recall notice to funnel down through several channels to Air Force Medical Service.  We have not heard of the recall through the previous notification system yet.  Just another great reason we have the new system,” said Barber.

Not only is the Air Force interested in an implant tracking system, but so is the Defense Health Agency “since the entire Military Health System shares similar challenges for tracking implants,” said Cox.  

Other bases participating in the pilot program are Randolph AFB, Texas; Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint-Base San Antonio; Keesler AFB, Mississippi; Nellis AFB, Nevada; and Cannon AFB.

The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado also is scheduled to get the system, said Cox.  The final base is yet to be determined.