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MERS Infection Puts RTLS Technology in the Spotlight

Real-time location system vendor Versus has seen interest in its products grow following media coverage of Community Hospital's use of the technology to identify all personnel who were in contact with a MERS-infected patient.
By Claire Swedberg
May 15, 2014

Two weeks ago, Community Hospital, located in Munster, Ind., used data supplied by its real-time location system (RTLS) to search out those at risk of infection when the first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was reported at its facility. A week later, Versus Technology, the supplier of that RTLS solution, began fielding calls from its customers, asking whether their own deployments could offer the same protection, or needed an upgrade to enable that kind of swift response to a contagious infection. Potential new customers have been calling in as well, the company reports.

Community Hospital, like most users of Versus' RTLS solution, was primarily employing the technology for tasks more mundane than disease control. The technology was installed in 2009 by Versus' partner Communication Company of South Bend, to automate the hospital's nurse-call system by enabling the canceling or routing of patient calls to nurses, based on their location within the building. The facility currently has 400 badges on hand that it issues to its nurses. However, says HT Snowday, Versus Technology's president, when the hospital found itself facing a safety concern like MERS, its staff was relieved that the technology could provide potentially life-saving information as well.

Versus Technology's HT Snowday
When the patient—a male health-care worker who had been stationed in Saudi Arabia just prior to returning to the United States to visit family in Indiana—checked into the 427-bed hospital on Apr. 28, doctors diagnosed that he had MERS, a potentially deadly virus first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012. For the hospital, the next step was to identify everyone who had been in contact with him.

To accomplish this goal, Community Hospital used the RTLS data in conjunction with a video surveillance system and its existing Epic electronic health record (EHR) software, the hospital's chief medical information officer, Alan Kumar MD, told the media this week during multiple interviews (the hospital declined to speak with RFID Journal at this time). In an article posted at EHRIntelligence.com, Kumar reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "was particularly impressed and thrilled that they had data on the exact amount of contact per provider, which is data they never had before in any investigation of this type because they never had a GPS or RFID-style system that tracks time in room."

Each Versus Clearview battery-powered RTLS badge transmits an infrared (IR) signal to IR sensors installed at Community Hospital, while also sending a 433 MHz RFID signal to RFID readers via a proprietary air-interface protocol. Versus' RTLS-Nurse Call Integration software determines the tag's whereabouts, based on the locations of the specific IR sensors and RFID interrogators that receive the tag's transmissions. The software then forwards that information to the hospital's Rauland-Borg nurse-call system.

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