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RFID portable asset tracking

30th July 2008

NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde has been working in partnership with Carillion IT Services since July 2007 to design and install a scaleable, secure Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) portable asset tracking solution at The Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH) in Paisley. The RAH is the first hospital in Scotland to use RFID technology to track portable medical devices.

Trying to locate potentially life-saving portable devices, such as defibrillators, infusion pumps and blood pressure monitors, places a considerable burden on hospital staff. With over 1,000 such devices at the RAH (valued at over £5,000,000) and no fixed storage area or equipment library, staff were previously spending up to 40 minutes locating each device required.

Objectives & challenges

The RAH sought to revolutionise its day-to-day working practices with a 21st Century ‘Virtual Equipment Library’ and identified that RFID technology could provide an effective solution. Carillion IT Services ran an initial three month pilot across seven wards in the hospital, including Accident & Emergency (A&E). Small electronic tags were attached to portable medical devices, sending signals to the wireless network. The location of the tags, and therefore the devices, could then be deduced.

The objectives of the project were to:

  • Track portable medical devices as they were moved around the hospital.
  • Find out whether RFID technology could improve the hospitals efficiency and provide faster patient care.
  • Provide a wireless platform able to support future technologies.

As a ground-breaking project, the team were faced with several unforeseen challenges:

  • The signal strength of wireless receivers was initially impaired due to the infrastructure of the building (with metal throughout the walls and ceilings). Carillion IT Services adjusted access point positions and used specially created brackets to overcome this. Considerable time was also spent calibrating the system to improve accuracy in device location. 
  • The attaching of RFID tags to devices (ensuring they were secure, but also removable so devices could be cleaned). The team tested various types of sealant before finding one that was cost effective, adhered strongly to the device and met hospital infection control requirements.

Outcome

The pilot was delivered on time, on budget and objectives were achieved, resulting in the RAH extending the technology to a further seven wards. When a portable medical device is required all staff need now do is log on to the tracking system, which displays a list of the hospital’s portable devices and ward maps showing their exact location.

The project is still on-going and the RAH aims to secure further funding to extend the tracking system across all 28 in-patient wards by the end of the financial year 2008/2009. If this is successful the project may then be rolled out across other in-patient hospitals in and around Glasgow.

Rather than making immediate cost savings, the main benefit of the project is the positive impact it has had on the day-to-day running of the hospital, enabling staff to provide faster, more efficient patient care. The £140,000 invested should be recouped through substantial savings in staff time and resources and ensuring that the benefits of the WLAN are properly exploited in the future. The RAH will also save on purchasing new equipment when devices are incorrectly deemed lost.

The RAH is considering many other uses for the wireless technology now in place and equipment tracking is just the first successful phase of the project. Other possible uses of the technology (currently being tested) include:

  • Trolley/patient tracking: To audit the amount of time patients spend in radiology after being assessed in A&E, RFID tags can be attached to patient trolleys moving between the departments to allow waiting times to be monitored and improved.
  • Temperature monitoring: RFID tags incorporating temperature sensors can provide real time temperature monitoring of refrigerators containing drugs and expensive medical supplies. This should provide time savings for clinical staff who currently check the temperature of refrigerators manually.
  • Wi-fi phones: There are plans to introduce wi-fi phones to improve communication between in-patient services and A&E doctors. These phones can be integrated with the hospital’s existing cable based phone system without risk of interference with medical devices. 

 

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Article Information

Title: RFID portable asset tracking
Author: Martine Hamilton
Article Id: 7751
Date Added: 30th Jul 2008

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