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San Jose Medical Center Installs ZigBee-based RTLS Across 10 Buildings

The Kaiser Permanente facility is tracking assets for preventative maintenance or clinicians' use, as well as for monitoring temperatures of cooling and warming devices.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 19, 2010Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center has begun employing a ZigBee-based real-time locating system (RTLS) to help its staff more easily locate items for equipment maintenance or clinical use, as well as to track the temperatures of its cooling and warming units.

The 242-bed facility handles 35,000 outpatient visits and delivers 2,225 babies annually. A study entitled "A 36-Hospital Time and Motion Study: How Do Medical-Surgical Nurses Spend Their Time?" analyzed staff efficiency and found that nurses traveled 1 to 5 five miles per 10-hour shift—with a median of 3 miles—and that three-quarters of their time was devoted to their nursing practice. The article, published in The Permanente Journal, further found that 6.6 percent of the nurses' time was spent engaging in activities categorized as waste, such as wandering around the hospital searching for needed equipment. The statistics in the report were based on data collected at 36 hospital medical-surgical units within 17 health-care systems and 15 states. However, Kaiser Permanente San Jose conducted its own study, according to Terri Simpson-Tucker, the medical center's assistant administrator, and determined that in 2007, it wrote off 251 assets, with a total value of $212,500, simply because they could not be located.

Terri Simpson-Tucker, assistant administrator of Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center
To resolve such problems, the hospital considered several technological options. "We started looking [at RFID] about four and a half years ago," Simpson-Tucker says. The medical center's research included reading about the technology in articles published by RFID Journal, speaking with vendors, and studying options related to passive and active systems, as well as plug-and-play solutions (such as a ZigBee-based system) versus those that are hardwired.

"We knew a hardwired system would be a problem," Simpson-Tucker says, due to the facility's age, and because California's construction requirements made installing wires in the walls or ceilings problematic. "We needed room-location accuracy, non-disruptive installation and tags that were sterilizable," she states, since some would have to go through the sterilization process with the equipment to which they were attached. The hospital determined it required a holistic approach, with a solution that would benefit its patients, health-care professionals and management by providing both managers and caregivers with better data concerning equipment availability, location and usage. The hospital invested $500,000 in the project.

Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center selected Awarepoint's ZigBee-based system, with access points (that Awarepoint calls sensors) that plug directly into power outlets. In December 2009, the hospital launched the system in 10 buildings in which assets and nurses are located, with a total of 660,000 square feet and 35 floors of coverage area. The medical facility is tracking 4,200 items, including more than 100 food and medication refrigerators and warmers.

Battery-powered RFID tags on assets transmit 2.4 GHz signals encoded with a unique ID number. The tag data is then sent over the IEEE 802.15.4 (ZigBee) communications protocol, and forwarded via mesh network consisting of other tags, as well as access points, until that information is received by a bridge unit. From the bridge, all data is forwarded via an Ethernet connection to the application software running on a vendor-hosted server. The software pinpoints each tag's location via patented signal-strength algorithms.

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