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The Lahey Clinic's RFID Remedy

A top Boston-area hospital has learned that RFID can cure problems associated with tracking and maintaining high-value mobile medical equipment.
By Mark Roberti
Apr 17, 2006The Lahey Clinic Medical Center in Burlington, Mass., is one of the top medical facilities in the Boston area. On any given day, the ambulatory care center treats some 3,000 patients, while hundreds more receive top-quality care in the 295-bed hospital, 24-hour emergency department and trauma center.

Much of the responsibility for making sure the more than 480 physicians and 4,600 nurses, therapists and other support staff have access to all the properly maintained equipment they need falls on the shoulders of Edward Bortone, director of materials services and security.


Edward Bortone of the Lahey Clinic observes infusion pumps being recharged in central inventory.

The Lahey Clinic has more than 1,500 pieces of moveable medical equipment, including wheel chairs, gurneys, portable oxygen tanks, intravenous (IV) pumps and defibrillators, that it considers inventoried. This means the equipment is not owned by a single department; rather, it is controlled and sourced from the hospital's central processing and distribution center. The prices of these assets range from a few hundred dollars apiece to several thousand, and many of them, such as IV pumps and wheelchairs, need to be maintained on a regular schedule.

Keeping track of all these devices' locations is no small task. At most hospitals, employees have a tendency to horde equipment. Every nurse has experienced the frustration of wasting time searching for (but not finding) a medical device, or of locating one that hasn't been washed or sterilized. Nurses learn that sometimes, the best thing to do is to put a spare IV pump or oxygen tank off to the side so it will be available when needed. The result is that another nurse can't find it. Often, someone else will put in a requisition for more IV pumps, thinking there is a shortage, when, in fact, there isn't.

Another challenge is keeping track of the equipment's maintenance histories and making sure that regularly scheduled maintenance has been done. Various departments keep logs—either manual or electronic—but different departments often keep separate logs of the same maintenance work, which is a waste of resources. What's more, the logs aren't always updated accurately, so it can be difficult to ensure each device has been properly maintained.

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