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U.K. Surgery Ward Tags Patients, Tracks Operations

Heartlands Hospital's ENT surgery unit uses an RFID system allowing it to perform more surgeries and reduce the potential for errors.
By Jonathan Collins
Aug 10, 2006Since November 2004, the ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgery unit at Heartlands Hospital, in Birmingham, England, has used radio frequency identification to identify and track more than 1,000 day-surgery patients. Such patients wear wristbands with embedded passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags, while interrogators identify and track their location from the moment they check in until the minute they check out. A patient information management system links each person's electronic case notes with the unique ID on the RFID tag.

The pilot has been so successful that the hospital has taken steps toward expanding the RFID-based patient surgery tracking system throughout the entire ward, and for surgical patients who stay overnight. In February, the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust—the local health authority with responsibility for the hospital—published a call for bids from systems integrators and RFID systems vendors to expand its RFID system to include a total of four wards, three pre-operative/anesthetic rooms, three surgical theaters and two recovery rooms each with its own RFID-enabled PC terminal, as well as 17 PDAs for staff members. A decision regarding the bids is expected within the next few weeks.

Prior to the current RFID system, the patients in the day-surgery ward had utilized wristbands providing only printed data. The printed information, however, sometimes became illegible and was not always checked by the staff during the treatment process. The RFID system uses passive 13.56 MHz RFID chips embedded into patient wristbands made by Precision Dynamics Corp. (PDC). Each chip has 1 kilobyte of memory and is encoded with the patient's name, date of birth, unique ID number and other details. The same data, along with a bar code, is printed on the wrist strap to be read directly by staff.

The addition of RFID tags to the wristbands ensures that staff members can read and access their data. The staff then verifies that the encoded data matches the information stored on a PC or handheld PDA. This helps make certain that the correct steps are being taken in the processing of a patient through surgical care.

As a patient moves through to surgery, the surgery nurse, the anesthetist and the surgeon all use handheld PDAs equipped with RFID interrogators to identify that person positively. The PDAs also display a checklist of procedures that must be carried out before that specific patient can progress through to the next stage of the surgical process. The PDAs operate using a wireless network deployed through the RFID trial area as part of the project.

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