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Shimane University Hospital Tags Surgical Tools, Cuts Costs

An RFID-enabled surgical instrument tracking system from KRD Corp. allows the hospital, as well as Wakayama Medical Center, to boost efficiency and eliminate errors.
By Claire Swedberg

In 2009, KDRC released its passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHZ RFID ceramic tag (compliant with the ISO 15693 standard), intended for use on surgical instruments. A year later, the company introduced SIMSAFE, which consists not only of KRDC's tags and software, but also RFID readers connected to an Advantech HIT-W121 or UTC-520 display terminal, to capture the ID numbers of tagged instruments at the sterilization and cleaning area, at storage egresses and within surgical rooms. KDRC also offers PDA devices for handheld reading that transmit data to the terminal via a Bluetooth connection.

In 2011, Shimane University Hospital attached a SIMSAFE ceramic RFID tag to each of its tools, as well as to the metal containers used for storing them. The tags range in size from 6 millimeters by 5 millimeters by 2.5 millimeters (0.24 inch by 0.2 inch by 0.01 inch) to 7.4 millimeters by 6.5 millimeters by 2.6 millimeters (0.3 inch by 0.26 inch by 0.01 inch). Each is embedded in a ring of steel that is typically welded to the side of an instrument or container. When surgeries are scheduled, the patient's ID number, the procedure to be conducted and the tools required for that procedure are listed in the SIMSAFE software, residing on the hospital's own database and integrated with its patient-management system. Employees log into the SIMSAFE software to prepare for surgeries, and can view which items they will need for a particular patient.

When tagged surgical instruments are placed on KRDC's reader antenna, their ID numbers are displayed on a terminal.
To assemble a container for that patient, workers use a SIMSAFE reader to capture each tool's tag ID, and an M3 Mobile handheld to interrogate the container's tag, thereby marrying those tag IDs to the patient. In the event of an error, such as the wrong instrument being chosen, or one that had not been sterilized, an alert is displayed on the terminal's LCD screen. The handheld is used to read container tags, Sawa says, because placing the large metal box on the desktop reader would be inconvenient for the staff; however, he adds, the container tag could be read via a desktop reader if a customer chose to use it in this way.

Once fully packed, the container is sealed and placed on a cart that is wheeled into storage, passing through a fixed reader portal consisting of KRDC's own reader and antennas. The portal captures the ID numbers of the containers and the tagged tools stored within, and displays an alert only if a mistake has been made—for instance, if a container or tools do not match those required for upcoming surgeries.

At the time of the procedure, the container is removed from storage and is again passed through the reader portal. The read event at that time confirms that the container is being removed, and the system again displays an alert only in the event of a mistake (such as the wrong container being removed for the surgeries scheduled that day, or an expiration date being reached on the sterilization process, since sterilization must be conducted again after a certain amount of time has passed).

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