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Burlington Medical Supplies Adds RFID Tags to Its X-ray Aprons

Passive EPC UHF tags allow users to track the locations and inspection histories of the protective garments used by hospital staff.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 29, 2012Burlington Medical Supplies (BMS) has teamed up with RFID software company ODIN to create an RFID-based system to track X-ray protection aprons for the purposes of inventory control and inspection management. The firm has opened a new division, BurmedID, to market the solution, known as the Burlington Apron Inventory Management System (BAIMS). ODIN provided the software and, in cooperation with BurmedID, is hosting the server on which that software resides.

Since Sept. 1, every X-ray apron that the company sells has come with an EPC UHF Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag attached to it, says Steve Porter, BurmedID's president. Users can also purchase a kit that includes retrofit tags for existing aprons, a handheld reader and a tablet computer loaded with the software that synchs read data with the hosted software.

BurmedID's Steve Porter
For about a year and a half, Burlington Medical researched and then developed a solution for managing the aprons that its sells. Hospitals often have 500 to 1,500 aprons or more within their facilities, distributed among the numerous departments in which imaging is carried out. The aprons, which contain materials that block X-ray radiation, are worn by staff members during imaging, in order to protect them from radiation exposure, and must be inspected by hospital employees on an annual basis to ensure that they are functioning properly. The inspection process includes the use of a fluoroscope to determine if a protective garment has any holes or damaged areas that could leak radiation. In addition, when The Joint Commission's inspectors visit a hospital, they examine the aprons to ensure that they are being properly maintained, which means they need to view a data record regarding the individual aprons. Most hospitals track their inventory via a number written on each apron, corresponding with a number listed on a spreadsheet.

Inspections, as well as records of those inspections, are not the hospitals' only concerns. If the quantity of available aprons is low within one of a hospital's departments, additional aprons (which cost an average of $400 apiece) may be purchased, even if existing aprons located in another department could have been accessed.

BMS is one of the largest manufacturers of X-ray protection equipment for hospitals. The solution from BurmedID and ODIN utilizes ODIN's software to manage data about each tagged item, and to display inspection reports when requested. When a customer purchases the system, the hospital receives a BAIMS tablet and a handheld UHF reader with a Bluetooth connection between the two. Porter declines to name the companies that provided the tablet and reader—which, he says, were modified by ODIN and BurmedID for this specific application.

When manufacturing an apron at its facility in Newport News, BMS attaches a tag to the out-of-the-way location on the protective apron (generally on the garment's back side), and the tag's ID number is then stored in the BAIMS software, along with data input by BMS' staff, such as the customer's name, the date of manufacture and a description of the apron. When a hospital orders the RFID system from BMS, the BAIMS software—with ID numbers of the tags, along with the descriptive data—is loaded onto a tablet. The tablet, reader and retrofit tags are shipped along with the aprons. Users receiving the goods can then use the handheld to read each tag. The reader can interrogate the tags within several inches (for example, by simply waving the reader near an apron), but not necessarily through the apron's protective material (made with lead or other X-ray-blocking metals). The tag ID is sent from the reader to the tablet, which then changes the item's status in the tablet's software from "In Transit" to "All Aprons on File." A drop-down menu allows a worker to add any comments. Once finished, he or she can press a synching prompt, and the data will then be sent to the BAIMS server via a Wi-Fi Internet connection.

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