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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
By wearing the watchlike tag, a mother can use the proximity reader in the tag to verify that she is attending to her own baby. The mother's tag emits a sound that signals whether the baby is the mother's own or not—the tag emits one type of sound if the baby is hers, and a different type of sound if the baby is not. As long as the mother and baby tags are no more than 2 to 3 feet apart, the mother tag will still pick up the baby tag's RF signal. The system also logs all activities within 30 to 50 feet of an RFID reader, and should there be a mismatch between the tags of a mother and a child, the system will detect that mismatch and raise an alarm.

As well as tracking assets, the system also has the capability of tracking nurses and staff wearing a 2.24-by-1.37-by-0.4-inch staff tag either clipped to a belt or hung from a lanyard. The tag features a button that can be used to enable a distress alert. Nurses sometimes work in wards where patients may be agitated or aggressive or have a small number of personnel. If a nurse presses the tag's button, an RFID reader picks up a distress signal and the system immediately issues an alert and shows the location of the nurse.


The system is configured to recognize tags so that the staff can use the restricted doors and elevators easily. For example, a nurse can leave with an infant to go to the radiology department downstairs, and the system automatically will detect and record their departure. When the infant returns to the floor, the system automatically registers the child's return. If the infant does not return within the allowed time limit, an alarm can be raised. Tag-wearing personnel can also remove tags from patients without triggering an alarm and can turn off alarms and alerts triggered when a tagged patient passes through a door without proper authorization.

In 2004, LPCH extended its RFID project to include asset tracking. Although the new asset-tracking system uses the same reader infrastructure, it is controlled by a different software management system: eXI's Assetrac.

"The asset-tracking system is separate from the baby security system, as other operations in the hospital—such as information technology; biomed, which is responsible for maintaining equipment; and the patient transportation department, which uses equipment such as wheelchairs and other equipment to move patients around—will all use the system in the future," says Fritz.

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