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RFID-enabled Handheld Helps Nurses Verify Meds

Caregivers at St. Clair Hospital are using Socket Mobile's new SoMo 650 RFID-enabled handheld to ensure they administer the right medications to patients.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 10, 2007Nurses and other caregivers at St. Clair Hospital are getting some help, via passive high-frequency RFID tags, in determining that the right patients are receiving the proper medicine at the exact dose and time—and in the correct manner.

The Pittsburgh hospital is implementing Socket Mobile's new SoMo 650 handheld mobile computer, which began shipping this week. The computer is fitted with a Socket Mobile CompactFlash RFID Reader Series 6, a dual-function device that can read and encode 13.56 MHz RFID tags (ISO 15693, ICode SLI/SL2, LRI512, my-d and Tag-It HF-I) and scan bar codes.

The SoMo 650, says Tom Ague, the hospital's COO and executive VP, is a Wi-Fi-enabled Pocket PC designed to let nurses verify a patient's identity, by reading an RFID tag embedded in that person's wristband before administering medicine. St. Clair Hospital has 329 acute care beds and admits about 16,000 patients annually. Running on the SoMo 650 is VeriScan software from Sculptor Developmental Technologies, a subsidiary of the hospital. VeriScan is designed to run on personal digital assistants (PDAs) or mobile computers, helping nurses prevent medication errors by providing them with pharmaceutical orders in real time. It also enables them to update patients' charts right at the bedside.

St. Clair had been using VeriScan with bar-code scanners connected to laptop computers on carts, but the carts were difficult to maneuver in patient rooms. The hospital switched to PDAs, but had some problems early on with those as well. "The screens weren't bright enough," Ague recalls. "The initial versions of the PDAs weren't ruggedized, and the network kept dropping off whenever nurses traveled from one area to another."

Therefore, St. Clair Hospital began testing the SoMo 650 about four months ago. According to Peter Phillips, Socket Mobile's VP of marketing, the device was designed based on feedback from the hospital and other companies. St. Clair is also using Precision Dynamics' RFID-enabled patient wristbands and staff badges, as well as an RFID printer-encoder from Zebra Technologies.

When the time comes to administer medication, a nurse logs in using the RFID-enabled SoMo 650 to read his or her badge's tag. The employee then scans the bar code on the medication package (St. Clair Hospital attaches bar-coded labels to all patient medications, which are placed into envelopes for administration). The package's bar-code number is then cross-checked with a back-end database to confirm the drug type, specific dose and means of administration.

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