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RFID Documents Surgery at Huntsville Hospital

The Alabama facility is using passive HF tags to verify a patient's identity and document the surgical process, from admission to discharge.
By Beth Bacheldor
Aug 21, 2007At Huntsville Hospital in Alabama, RFID is helping the surgical department stay on track. Thanks to the passive RFID system it installed, the department has become more efficient and care has improved because patients are accurately identified at every step of the way during their visit.

Huntsville Hospital is using Aionex's RFID-enabled Advanced Patient Response Platform (APRP), an integrated communication and transaction software product that can monitor caregivers as well as helps keep track of patients. The system leverages SkyeTek passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags and interrogators that comply with ISO 15693, ISO 14443A and ISO 18000-3 air-interface protocols. The tags are embedded in stickers and key fobs.

About a year ago, the 881-bed acute-care hospital began testing the system with a few nurses, according to Kitty Cathcart, lead applications analyst in the hospital's surgical department. After several months of testing, the system went live first in the pre-operating rooms, then in the operating rooms and finally the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). Today, the hospital issues about 2,400 RFID tags per month in the form of adhesive stickers worn by patients, and 25 RFID-enabled key fobs given to anesthesiologists.

Huntsville Hospital decided on an RFID-enabled system mainly because it wanted to improve efficiencies and communications that would directly improve surgical start times, Cathcart says. "The surgery department had identified several components to the patient throughput and staff workflow that often creates a bottleneck throughout the continuum of care," she says. The hospital specifically wanted to improve communication among staff via real-time updates of patients' status, provide caregivers with visual cues via an LCD monitor of scheduled procedures and their status, as well as provide a mechanism that would correctly identify patients being prepped for surgery. In addition, the hospital wanted to be able to send out alerts (via e-mails, text paging or cell phone calls) of upcoming, current and overdue tasks, and also document surgical start and stop times and staff movements.

Aionex's APRP is a Web-based system that uses a rules-based engine to track, communicate the status of processes and events. Hospitals can check on a patient's status via electronic whiteboards, as well as on PCs and handhelds running the software. For several years, the APRP was able to track caregivers and patients via infrared (IR) ID tags and interrogators, but about a year ago Aionex added SkyeTek's RFID capability. "One of the reasons we moved away is the cost," says Curt Freemyer, Aionex's CEO. An IR ID tag affixed to a badge or lanyard can cost up to $50, and "a lot of times patients have to have them cut off, and go through several in a given visit. It gets pretty expensive."

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