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Howard Memorial Finds RFID Keeps Assets From Getting Lost

A ZigBee-based system lets the California hospital continually monitor the location and condition of high-priced equipment throughout its nine-building campus.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 23, 2009Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital, a nine-building facility in Willits, Calif., has begun employing a ZigBee-based system to help it track where items are located, when they require repair or cleaning, and when they are being removed from the buildings. The system was provided by medical equipment solutions firm Skytron, with hardware, complying with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, from Awarepoint. According to Tom Peterson, Howard Memorial's plant operations manager and safety officer, the system was installed in the spring of 2009, and has thus far reduced the incidence of lost items from up to 30 per month, down to zero.

Some of the nine buildings are attached via hallways, Peterson says, while others stand alone. The rural hospital needed a system that would help its biomedical department and other staff members gain immediate information regarding which building an item is in—and in which location within that building—as well as the maintenance and cleaning status of any specific assets, such as wheelchairs, wheeled workstations, portable thermometers and X-ray image intensifiers.

Howard Hospital's Tom Peterson
"We were having inefficiencies in locating equipment when it was time for servicing our assets," Peterson says. After seeking solutions approximately one year ago, the hospital chose Skytron's ZigBee-based system—in part, he notes, because the company was already a contracted vendor for the facility's health-care alliance, Premier.

The challenge for Skytron, Peterson says, was to complete the project in about two weeks in March, because Howard Memorial's CEO intended to showcase the solution at an Adventist Health West conference for hospital CFOs and CEOs. "Their team was very efficient in setting up a timeline," he says, "and we were able to get it up and running in two weeks."

There were several challenges related to the installation, Peterson reports. The hospital needed the system to operate within all nine buildings. Because assets were often moved from one building to another for servicing, they would occasionally leave the ZigBee coverage area. Consequently, he says, the system needed to allow for that activity, while also being able to recognize any unusual asset movements that could indicate a theft was underway.

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