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RFID Device Lets Patients Administer Their Own Pain Meds

A clinical trial at the Halifax Health Medical Center shows the device helps patients better control pain, while also saving nurses time.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
May 22, 2008Across the United States, a nursing shortage is stressing the health-care system—and studies show the problem could get much worse. Recent research performed by Peter Buerhuas, a Vanderbilt University professor, workforce analyst and registered nurse, indicates the shortage could spike to 500,000 by 2025, thanks in part to the 78 million aging baby boomers.

A patient touches the MOD's pain scale to record the pain level and activate the RFID reader within the device.
A product developed by Avancen, a medical device startup company in Ormond Beach, Fla., might not be able to erase that labor shortage, but it could help alleviate one stress the shortage inflicts on nurses and patients alike: pain-relief drug administration. After an operation, hospital patients are generally provided with pain medication, administered intravenously.

Many of these IV devices include an automated dispensing system enabling a patient to receive additional medicine by pressing a button as the previous dose wears off (the medication is dispensed based on predetermined dosage and frequency parameters programmed into the device).

But as the patient moves off the IV and begins receiving oral pain medication, administering the drugs is a manual process that takes valuable time away from a nurse's schedule and often requires patients to wait a considerable amount of time for the pills, says Sharon Conley, Avancen's CEO. Conley worked as a medical oncologist at the Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Fla., before founding Avancen in 2004, and conceived of the company's first product, Medication on Demand (MOD), which allows patients to access their own medication using a bedside dispenser.

After indicating a pain level, the patient passes the RFID wristband across the device.
In its first iteration, the MOD consisted of a mechanical pill dispenser controlled via an input switch and a timer. A patient would press a button on the machine, and if enough time had passed since it last dispensed a pain pill, based on that person's prescription, it would provide another. But once she began collaborating with product engineers at Soneticom, Conley says, she learned that adding RFID technology to the mix could make the device both a more secure and more automated dispensing tool.

Here's how it works: After being taken off of an IV pain medication drip, a patient is assigned an RFID-enabled wristband containing a passive 13.56 MHz RFID inlay compliant with the ISO 15693 standard. Encoded to the wristband's inlay is that patient's medical record locator number, which the hospital utilizes to track that individual's treatment log and drug prescriptions. The patient's nurse receives the pain pills, which are delivered from the hospital's pharmacy in a sealed tray that fits into the MOD, which includes an integrated RFID interrogator. The nurse then programs the device using a Bluetooth communication link between the MOD and a handheld or mobile computer that runs a software program developed by Avancen.

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