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Utah Valley Regional Medical Center to Run Pilot With IR-RFID Tags

As the hospital tests the system's ability to track patients, staff and assets, it also plans to check for any potential electromagnetic interference that may disrupt medical equipment.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 21, 2008Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah, is gearing up to test a dual RFID-infrared real-time location system (RTLS) to track patient flow and hospital equipment. A fundamental part of the test will involve checking for electromagnetic interference (EMI) from the RFID system that could disrupt the operation of medical equipment.

The pilot will help the 395-bed hospital—part of the Intermountain Healthcare system—determine how well the technology works for tracking patient flow, as well as for monitoring how long patients wait before being seen by a nurse or doctor. "We hope to see patient wait times decrease because of this," says Larson Holyoak, director of clinical engineering at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

The Utah Valley Regional Medical Center is preparing to test a dual RFID-infrared real-time location system to track patient flow and hospital equipment.

The RTLS will also be tested for managing and quickly locating infusion pumps, ventilators, wheelchairs and other equipment in the ER department. "Also, the doctors and nurses can wear the badges," Holyoak says, "so we can find them much more quickly." If all goes well, Intermountain Healthcare may opt to roll out the RFID-infrared technology across the company's 100 clinics and 41 hospitals throughout Utah and Idaho. The pilot, slated to get underway in November, is expected to last for three months.

Utah Valley Regional Medical Center will test a system utilizing active tags that emit both infrared and RF (433 MHz) signals. Patients entering the ER will be provided with infrared-RF tags (worn on either a lanyard or wristband) to monitor and track their movements and care progression for the duration of their visit. Nurses and doctors will wear ID badges containing the tags, and a variety of hospital equipment will be tagged as well.

Each badge or tag transmits a unique ID number correlated with the patient, personnel or equipment information in a back-end system. According to Holyoak, the hospital will deploy sensors (readers) in hallways and waiting rooms, and the sensors will use a proprietary air-interface protocol to communicate with the tags' RFID component. The tag's infrared component, meanwhile, emits an IR signal to sensors that will be placed in the approximately 40 patient rooms in the hospital's ER department.

When a sensor receives a tag's signal, it forwards that tag's unique ID number and its own location to a computer system that hospital employees can access from their desktops to locate people or equipment. Holyoak says he is not at liberty to reveal the company providing the RTLS. He and his team intend to check for EMI on each piece of equipment Utah Valley Regional Medical Center has in its ER department—a process the hospital performs every time it brings a new wireless device on-site.

Results were recently released from two studies specifically examining the effects of EMI from RFID systems on medical devices. One, conducted by researchers at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and RFID consulting and systems integration firm BlueBean, studied passive 868 MHz ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags and readers but did not detect any incidents of EMI (see New RFID Study Finds No Interference With Medical Devices).

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