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RTLS Stops the Leak of Air Mattress Inventory at Hospital

Kaiser Permanente's Zion Medical Center is tracking the movements of its high-value reusable mattresses to ensure that none end up inadvertently in the trash compactor.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 29, 2016

Zion Medical Center, a San Diego hospital operated by Kaiser Permanente Health, was losing its HoverMatt air-assisted transfer mattresses at a mysteriously high rate when it turned to a technology-based solution last year. The mats, which can cost up to $2,000 apiece, were disappearing at a rate of approximately eight per month. By attaching battery-powered real-time location system (RTLS) tags, provided by Awarepoint, to the mats—and by utilizing Awarepoint RTLS software already in use onsite—the hospital not only discovered what was happening to the mats, but also rectified the problem.

By tagging the mats, the medical center was able to identify their locations automatically, as well as set up an alerting system to detect if a mat left the premises. As a result, the hospital's managers concluded that many of the missing mats had been placed into garbage compactors. It turned out that staff members, when cleaning up after a patient, simply were inadvertently throwing the deflated mats into garbage bins that were headed for those compactors. By understanding and addressing the cause of the mats' disappearance, says Andrea Odom, a Kaiser senior financial analyst, the hospital has gained a return on its investment in the Awarepoint tags, and has since purchased more tags for additional mats it acquires.

Zion Medical Center attached an Awarepoint tag to the flap that covers the air nozzle of each HoverMatt air-assisted transfer mattress.
The HoverMatt mattress is an inflatable mat that floats on a cushion of air, making it easier to lift with a patient lying on top. Patients are getting heavier and arrive at hospitals more immobile than they did 50 years ago, Odom explains, and hospitals have thus acquired lifting devices to ensure that personnel and patients are not hurt when individuals are being moved, for instance, from a stretcher to a bed. When not in use, the mats are deflated, making it possible for workers to confuse them with disposable items or with linens. Identifying the high-value mats can be made more difficult by the fact that hospitals also use disposable transfer mats when the reusable HoverMatt mattresses aren't available, and they look somewhat similar.

The hospital initially acquired 500 reusable mats, in early 2013, but found, during an inventory count performed in August 2014, that they had only 162 left. The facility conducted an investigation, Odom says, interviewing its EMS personnel, as well as employees at satellite facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities. However, no one could locate the mats that had vanished.

Zion Medical Center was already using the first generation of Awarepoint RTLS technology to track its beds, wound vacs, pumps and other assets throughout its premises, so it spoke with the RTLS technology provider and opted to apply tags to the remaining mats. By the time tagging began in May 2015, another 74 mats had gone missing.

Zion's Awarepoint RTLS deployment consists of 2.4 GHz RTLS tags that emit a signal employing the ZigBee protocol, compliant with the ISO 802.15.4 standard, says Bernard Lee, Awarepoint's marketing VP. Sensors located at various points throughout the hospital capture the ZigBee-based tags' transmissions and forward that data, via other sensors, back to Awarepoint software running on an onsite server.

According to Lee, Awarepoint's next-generation RTLS solution employs Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology instead of ZigBee. With the next-gen version, a facility installs Bluetooth beacons at various fixed locations, and the new Awarepoint tags (attached to assets) capture the beacons' signals and forward that location-related data to the back-end server via Wi-Fi connection. Lee says the system can accomplish location accuracy within about one meter.

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