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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
When a worker carrying tagged equipment walks through the ward's exit door, an RFID reader automatically identifies the worker's tag and automatically logs out the equipment, even if there are multiple items. The system is capable of showing which exit was used when the equipment was removed. If items are taken to other parts of the adjoining Stanford Hospital or other LPCH units, Santos and her staff can trace the last readings of the tag and find out when and in which direction the item was taken. Then, through a link with the hospital's security camera system, she can access photographs of the individual who removed the equipment and ensure that the item is returned.

The asset tag, which measures 1.9 by 0.95 by 0.35 inches, is attached using a special adhesive tape. Currently, around 60 pieces of equipment have been tagged, including such items as breast pumps, rollaway beds, specialty beds, vital-sign machines (automated machines that measure the temperature, pulse, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels of patients) and fetal Dopplers. Not only does the system spare the hospital from having to replace equipment that would otherwise be missing, it also saves the time that was often wasted looking for medical equipment. "When you need something, it could be anywhere. We used to simply hunt around all three of the units. Time was being lost, patients were being unduly disturbed and at times the equipment was needed immediately. This could have some patient-safety implications," says Santos.

By letting staff associate key data with each asset ID, the Assetrac software helps staff schedule preventative equipment maintenance, allowing for best possible patient care. To facilitate its purchasing decisions, the hospital can use the Assetrac software to chronicle the equipment's usage.

Using the asset-tracking system requires a different approach than the one taken for the people-tracking system, according to Santos. When someone tries to take a baby out without authorization, the system locks the exits, but when someone leaves with a piece of equipment, no alarms or door locks are activated. Instead, the system simply records the equipment's removal.

"We don't want alarms going off when a bed leaves the unit. We want to know that it has been removed and which route it took. It is not a life-and-death situation that warrants audible alarms," says Santos.

According to eXI, although the people and asset tags can be reused, the life span of the tags varies by type. Baby tags will last up to three years before the batteries no longer work; asset tags can last up to five years. The batteries are not replaceable as a precaution against creating any kind of opening or crevice that could collect dirt and bacteria. The tags instead are ultrasonically welded together, so that patients can shower or bathe with them, and tags can be sterilized and cleaned.

Santos claims that when the asset-tracking system is installed throughout LPCH and Stanford Hospital, managers as well as staff from nursing, information technology, clinical engineering and patient transport departments will be able to locate much needed pieces of equipment in a timely fashion. They hope to demonstrate that the time and money saved in personnel trying to find equipment will have paid for the system in a very short period of time.

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