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Hospital Pilots New Bluetooth Low Energy System from GE Healthcare, Zebra Technologies

The technology companies have launched Encompass—a BLE solution consisting of cloud-based software, fixed and mobile beacon receivers, and beacon tags for assets, personnel or patients—to boost efficiency at less than half the cost of typical RTLS solutions.
By Claire Swedberg

Zebra worked with GE Healthcare to develop the health-care-focused solution and hardware beacons with a more aesthetically pleasing design for the hospital market (they're white), and with a smooth design to minimize germ collection and withstand standard health-care disinfectants.

Fixed beacon receivers can be plugged into A/C outlets throughout a hospital. The beacon receivers capture transmissions from beacon tags moving around them, then forward the unique identifiers of those tags via the hospital's Wi-Fi network to GE's cloud-based server. Hospitals can view location information based on that data. The beacon tags can be attached to an asset, or be worn by staff members or patients.

Encompass also includes mobile BLE receivers in the form of a badge device, similar to a pager, worn by clinical personnel. Like the fixed receivers, these devices also capture beacon transmissions, and forward the data via the Wi-Fi network. The system can use big-data analytics and crowd-sourcing to expand the solutions range and real-time accuracy. Users can then use a Web-based application to easily find assets (the closest assets, all assets of one type, a specific device, etc.). For instance, if a staff member were looking for a clean infusion pump, he or she could make a request via GE's FindIt app on his or her tablet, then access location data related only to items within the same zone in which they are located.

GE Healthcare has many customers, Sullivan says, for which it manages assets. This enables Zebra's beacon-based technology to be available to a wide market as part of Encompass. The Encompass system, he adds, "has a software platform that can be interoperated with a customer's existing management system."

The technology can be used to help biomedical personnel locate equipment that they gather for inspection and preventative maintenance. In addition, nurses and other health-care providers can utilize the technology to identify where equipment is located when they need it for patient care. The historic data from the system will enable hospitals to better understand how, when and how often their equipment is used. They can prevent equipment from gathering in a single department when it is needed elsewhere.

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