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RFID Boosts Medical Equipment Usage at U.K. Hospital

Addenbrooke's has nearly doubled its use of medical equipment, as well as reduced its labor costs, by employing an active RFID system to track tagged items via fixed portals and handheld readers.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 15, 2013

During the 18 months since Addenbrooke's Hospital installed a solution that uses active radio frequency identification tags to track medical equipment, the 1,100-bed medical facility reports that it has more than doubled its asset-utilization rate, thereby reducing the need for excess rentals and purchases, as well as the amount of time employees previously spent searching for missing items. By the end of this year, the hospital expects a total of approximately 10,000 pieces of equipment to have been fitted with active tags. In addition, the facility is piloting the use of ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive tags for some of its other lower-value or less-mobile goods.

The British research hospital installed the technology, provided by RFID systems integrator Harland Simon, to monitor medical assets loaned from its Medical Equipment Library (MEL). Addenbrooke's also uses the technology to track other mobile items, including all 1,000 of its beds, wheelchairs and mobile pumps destined for surgical units.

An RFID tag is placed on each asset stored within the hospital's Medical Equipment Library.
Addenbrooke's is part of the Cambridge University Hospitals National Health Service (NHS) trust, and one of the nation's largest and most renowned medical facilities. The challenge for Addenbrooke's, as with many hospitals, is locating assets when they are needed. Its Medical Equipment Library is responsible for thousands of items (every month, it loans nearly 2,000 pieces of equipment to about 45 specific departments) that must then be retrieved by MEL's staff for reuse elsewhere.

Problems arise when the equipment can no longer be located at the department that had borrowed it. Frequently, a particular asset may follow a patient who has been moved to another department, for example, and finding that item can thus prove very time-consuming. Such items often become "long-term loans," meaning they are not returned for reuse and may or may not even be in use at the time.

Prior to the RFID system's installation, MEL's staff would regularly conduct departments audits to locate missing equipment, walking through each department and recording anything they might find. This process could take about two days to complete. The facility thus considered several other solutions, including a Wi-Fi-based real-time locating system (RTLS), but found many to be unrealistic due to the cost of installing the infrastructure, says Simon Dawkins, the Medical Equipment Library's supervisor. The hospital currently does not have a Wi-Fi network installed.

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