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Brigham and Women's Hospital Tests NFC RFID for Patient Bedsides

An interdisciplinary project team is developing a solution for the electronic management of medication administration, with Near Field Communication passive tags attached to medications, patients' wristband and nurses' badges.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 14, 2013

Harvard Medical School teaching affiliate Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is testing a Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID system it developed that enables health-care staff members to manage the administration of medication at a patient's bedside. The solution—designed last year by an interdisciplinary group headed by Adam Landman, a medical doctor who serves as the director of clinical informatics for BWH's emergency medicine department—consists of a Google Nexus 7 tablet and a software app that interprets RFID tag data regarding patients and the medications they receive. The system works with passive NFC RFID tags attached to medications, to patients' wristbands and to staff members' ID badges, thereby enabling a user to read the tags and link the patient, caretaker and medication in the app.

Since 2005, BWH has managed its medication administration data via bar codes. Increasingly, Landman explains, hospitals are using bar codes or other electronic data systems to manage which pharmaceuticals are being administered to which patients. The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services incentivizes hospitals and health-care providers to adopt electronic health records in a series of stages, one of which (Stage 2) requires that, starting in 2014, medicine must be tracked via an electronic medication administration record (eMAR). BWH has been providing its own eMAR system that involves scanning a bar code printed on a medication, along with the bar code on a patient's wristband, in order to link that individual with a particular medicine.

When a patient's passive NFC RFID tag is scanned via a Google Nexus 7 tablet, the eMAR application lists the medications and dosages that person should be receiving.

To use the system, nurses bring a workstation-on-wheels to patients, along with a bar-code scanner and the appropriate medications. At each bedside, they scan each bar-coded identifier of every medication, and those IDs are automatically entered into that patient's electronic health record on the workstation-on-wheels computer, via a Bluetooth connection. However, Landman notes, the time spent scanning bar codes, as well as the difficulty in ensuring a strong Bluetooth connection, can often make data collection during these visits time-consuming. The bar codes themselves could be difficult to scan as well—in many cases, a bar code is printed on a crinkled wrapper that can be difficult to scan. What's more, he says, pushing the workstation-on-wheels from one room to another is cumbersome.

"That led us to thinking about new ways to do this," Landman states. In 2012, BWH's Biomedical Research Institute awarded him a grant for translatable technologies and care, to design a better eMAR solution.

Landman put together an interdisciplinary project team that includes Anne Bane, BWH's nursing director of clinical systems innovation; Stephen Miles, a research affiliate at the MIT Auto-ID Labs; and Pamela Neri, the research project manager for clinical and quality analysis at Partners HealthCare. The group developed an app that stores a list of patients, as well as data about each patient, such as the medications he or she should receive, how often and when they should be administered, and in what doses. Landman's team built a prototype system, using a Nexus 7 tablet, which comes with a built-in NFC RFID reader. They loaded the tablet with the app, and then attached NFC RFID tags to some pharmaceuticals, staff badges and patient wristbands.

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