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At Virginia Mason Clinic, RFID Eliminates the Need to Wait

Arriving patients are sent directly to an examination room, thanks to a hybrid RF-IR system that tracks the locations of patients and staff members in real time, and improves efficiency.
By Claire Swedberg
Every examining room is equipped with two doors, each accessible by a separate hallway. The door on one side of the room is used by patients, while the entranceway on the other side is for the staff. In that way, patients and employees are separated while in the clinic's hallways. When a patient and a physician or other care provider are both in the same room together, the IR and RFID readers capture transmissions from both tags and transmit the two individuals' location information to the VISion software.

Richard Furlong, a VM Kirkland physician
The IR function helps the clinic pinpoint the room in which the tags are located. The software can then interpret which physician is meeting with which patient, as well as how long they are in the examining room together, which helps the clinic analyze doctors' time spent with patients, and also determine where there is room for improvement in efficiency.

The system is being utilized for real-time monitoring, says Richard Furlong, an internal medicine physician at VM Kirkland. If, for example, a patient sits for too long in an examining room without being seen, a staff member can be alerted to visit that person, or to contact the physician assigned to him or her. It can also be used for analytics, Diaz says. "It allows us to look at our processes," she explains. "Why did this patient take longer than that patient?"

The system has increased efficiency, Furlong indicates, because as a physician, he has a better idea of which patients are ready, and of when he has a few free minutes to complete other tasks, such as responding to e-mails or placing phone calls.

When asked to explain why the clinic chose to adopt the new technology, Furlong answers, "I think this might reflect that Virginia Mason is a little different. We do have a head start when it comes to improving processes."

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