Geisinger Tracks Patients With Disposable RTLS Wristband Tags

By Claire Swedberg

The medical center is using CenTrak's low-cost wristband tags and TeleTracking's software to provide location information to patients' families and care providers, and to the hospital's cleaning staff.

Geisinger-Community Medical Center (G-CMC), in Scranton, Pa., is using disposable CenTrak wristband tags to provide patient location information to patients' families and care providers, as well as to its cleaning staff.

G-CMC's adoption of the disposable tags is not intended to save the hospital money, but rather to improve the quality of the stay for patients and their loved ones, according to Kelly Worsnick, a registered nurse and the operations manager of G-CMC's emergency department. "This is definitely about providing a service for our patients."

CenTrak's disposable tag attaches to the standard plastic patient ID bracelet typically used by hospitals.

Approximately 80 percent of patients who visit G-CMC's emergency department go home at the end of their visit. The other 20 percent are admitted to the hospital for overnight care, and might move from one area to another—such as to diagnostics, a patient room or a waiting area. It can thus be time-consuming for families or health-care providers to locate them. The CenTrak disposable wristband tag is intended to resolve that issue. What's more, the disposable wristband tag is more affordable than CenTrak's reusable version—especially since the permanent wristband tags are often lost, and the cost of sanitizing them after use is high.

Upon being admitted to the hospital, a patient is issued a disposable CenTrak tag attached to a standard plastic ID bracelet typically used by medical facilities. The unique identifier encoded on the tag is also printed on its front so that employees can input that number into the system to link it with the patient's other information in TeleTracking Technologies' TeleTracking software, which manages the tag data. The wristband tag also comes with a bar code utilizing that same serial number, enabling personnel to scan the bar code to enter the identifier as well.

CenTrak's second-generation infrared (Gen2IR) beacons were installed throughout the hospital. The wristband tag receives the ID numbers transmitted by IR beacons within its range, and forwards that information, along with its own identifier, via an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) signal using a proprietary air-interface protocol. The data is received by a CenTrak Gen2IR Monitor (RFID reader) and forwarded to a CenTrak location server. The location data is then passed on to the TeleTracking software, which displays the tag's location—and thus that of its wearer—on a video monitor.

The hospital uses video monitors, known as tracker boards (three of which have been installed in the emergency department), as well as computers, to display the location of each patient by name in real time. The monitors are not intended for public viewing. A physician or family member looking for a patient can seek assistance from a staff member, who then refers to the monitor display and can tell that person the room in which the patient is currently located.

G-CMC's Kelly Worsnick

When G-CMC discharges the patient, the entire wristband is removed and placed in a CenTrak ITK 363 Tag Drop Box. A built-in Gen2IR Monitor captures each wristband tag's ID number and forwards that data to the software, which then updates the patient's status as having left the facility. The cleaning staff can then access the software to determine that that patient's bed has been vacated, as well as when this occurred, so that they can enter that room and begin preparing that bed for the next patient.

The patient-tracking system installation began as a pilot in June 2015, Worsnick says, and has recently moved into a permanent deployment phase. Initially, the hospital intends to continue using the solution to provide location information to families and health-care providers. However, she adds, the solution could offer further functionality that the medical center might opt to take advantage of in the future. For instance, she says, the hospital could link the locations of medical equipment and patients, in order to better track which services a patient is receiving and when they are provided, not only for real-time information but for historical data as well. For instance, if a highly contagious infection were detected at the hospital, personnel could quickly access information about equipment used on an infected patient and address the sterilization issues accordingly.

The system could also be used to monitor the time and duration of a visit between a health-care provider and a patient, as long as that provider was also wearing an RTLS badge or tag.

CenTrak released its single-use wristband tag last year with the aim of making RTLS tracking more affordable and accessible to health-care providers (see RFID News Roundup: CenTrak Launches Single-Use Patient-Tracking Tag, TeleTracking Upgrades Its RTLS). "One of the barriers to patient tracking has been the cost of tags," says Ari Naim, CenTrak's president and CEO. Reusable tags can be expensive, while related activities—such as the cleaning and sterilization of tags, as well as the replacement of tags accidentally taken home by patients—can add an additional cost. CenTrak still makes reusable tags, but these are more often used for specialty applications, such as infant protection.

The disposable technology makes it more affordable for hospitals to begin linking patient information to the location of equipment and employees.