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RFID Delivers Newborn Security

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital uses RFID to track the location of its newest patients and ensure they won’t be removed without permission. The same system is being used to track assets.
By Jonathan Collins
LPCH has traditionally identified a newborn by means of a numbered band that matches a band worn by the baby's mother, but the hospital saw the potential for RFID tagging to add security to its operations. Using Prosec Protection System's MyChild Infant Protection System (a customized solution and developed and supplied by eXI Wireless that's based on eXI's Halo tracking system), LPCH started the tagging of newborns in 2001. When a baby is born, the mother and child are still tagged with the traditional mom-baby matching numbered bracelets in the labor and delivery room. From there, the mother and baby are taken to the well-baby nursery, where the staff gives the newborn a full medical assessment and a bath and attaches an ankle bracelet containing an active RFID tag. That tag carries a unique ID number that is recorded in the Prosec MyChild Infant Protection System and associated with the mother's and baby's name.

The MyChild RFID infant tag, which operates at 433 MHz, measures 1.3 by 1.5 by 0.6 inches, weighs 0.25 ounces and is contoured so that it fits a baby's ankle. It is also tamper proof—an alarm will alert staff if someone tries to remove a tag from a baby. An RF signal regularly transmitted by the tag also ensures that an alarm will be raised if the tag is shielded from the readers.

The ankle tag is tracked by the Prosec MyChild Infant Protection System software that runs on a PC server linked to four other PCs within the region, as well as a network of RFID readers deployed throughout LPCH's postpartum and well-baby nursery areas. The system is also connected to LPCH's security department.

To ensure that babies can not be removed from the hospital without authorization, RFID readers have been deployed at all exit doors from the maternity region leading to other parts of the hospital, as well as the elevators. If anyone tries to take a baby out of the ward past any of the doors, the readers detect the security tag on the baby and the MyChild system activates an alarm that locks the doors. Nurses have the ability to check the system and reset any alarms using either one of the four PCs or one of the remote display units located in strategic areas on the unit.

After more than a year of tagging newborns, LPCH expanded the capabilities of the system to tag mothers as well. This helps address another key issue for maternity wards that can be tackled using RFID: accidental baby-switching. The number of baby-switching incidents, where the identity of a baby is mistakenly changed with another, has been as high as 2,000 per year in the U.S., according to The Journal of Healthcare Protection Management.

"Babies can look very similar, and if you have three with the same family name, it is easy for confusion to take place," says Harald Fritz, director of business development at eXI Wireless, which is based in Richmond, B.C.

The MyChild mother tag, which a patient wears on her wrist, incorporates a RFID proximity reader so that when the ankle tag is placed on the baby, the mother's tag can be activated to read the tag on her newborn's ankle and associate the ID numbers of both tags with each other. The data is recorded in the MyChild system.

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