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Infrared/RFID Tags Help Anne Arundel Medical Center Reduce Labor Costs

The Maryland hospital is deploying Versus Technology's hybrid system to help it accurately locate equipment throughout its facility.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 27, 2009Anne Arundel Medical Center, located in Annapolis, Md., is employing a hybrid RFID and infrared technology solution known as VISion Asset Management to pinpoint the locations of assets that can be accessed by medical staff. The system, provided by Versus Technology, can locate an item to within a few feet, according to H.T. Snowday, Versus' chief technology officer.

Anne Arundel Health System expanded its hospital complex with a new acute-care pavilion in 2001. At the time of construction, the hospital's management began considering wireless tracking systems to be deployed in the new pavilion, as well as three other buildings, that would offer staff members the ability to track assets, patients and each other. Without a tracking system, searching for equipment can take nurses up to an hour or two each day. With such a system, however, not only would the time spent searching for assets, patients and personnel be reduced, data from the system could also be used for medical records and billing.

Richard Constantineau, the medical center's biomedical engineering manager
But the systems were not as easily implemented as the staff had hoped, says Richard Constantineau, Anne Arundel Medical Center's manager of biomedical engineering. The hospital first installed a system that employed battery-powered ID tags that utilized infrared signals to communicate with readers. Manufactured by Versus Technology and deployed by a third-party integrator, the system failed to work properly and had unreliable read rates, in part because the readers (which Versus calls sensors) were not correctly placed. The hospital hired an integrator to add an RFID system with RFID tags being read by interrogators using the IEEE 802.11 protocol, but the system still failed to provide what it required. "The granularity we achieved just wasn't what we expected," Constantineau says, noting that the system could be off by 50 feet.

"At that point, we went back to the drawing board," Constantineau explains. The hospital decided to ask Versus to demonstrate a solution it had developed that used an auto-ID system utilizing both RF and infrared signals, instead of just infrared. In October 2007, Versus visited the hospital and set up a trial on one floor with 40 items, using the sensors previously installed, but adjusting the installation so the sensors could be read. With the hospital's help, the vendor also input the correct nomenclature into the software, such as room numbers and names (for instance, "storage room # 4"). The hospital had decided to initially tag only assets—rather than patients or employees—to ensure the system worked. This time, the system pinpointed assets as they moved around the floor accurately. "The staff really liked it," Constantineau states.

Versus spent the following six months working with the hospital to provide a facility-wide system in four buildings, tagging only assets. Unlike some hospitals, Anne Arundel wanted its clinical staff, as well its employees overseeing equipment usage and maintenance, to be able to utilize the system. In other words, it wanted a nurse to be able to log onto the system and, for example, locate an infusion pump—and find it fast.

Thus far, the hospital has tagged 600 items with battery-powered tags using both RF and infrared signals to transmit their unique ID numbers.

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