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RFID Delivers Healthy Return for Hospital

Jacobi Medical Center's RFID-enabled patient ID system not only enhances patient care and staff working conditions, but will also save $1 million a year when fully deployed.
By Jonathan Collins
Designed, deployed and managed by Siemens Business Services, the pilot RFID system replaces a heavily manual system that issues patients a wristband printed with the patient's name, date of admission and unique medical record number (MRN), written both in human-readable numbers and in bar code format. To check a patient's electronic records using the old system, a doctor, nurse or other hospital caregiver needed to enter the wristband's MRN into the hospital's computer system by means of PCs located at the nurses' station within each ward.

The old system also required staff to manually enter the MRN by reading the human-readable information or, when administering drugs from a medical trolley, use a handheld bar code reader to scan the MSN number printed in bar code format. However, using the bar code system proved an invasive way for staff to check a patient's identity, which must be verified before any medication or treatment can be administered. Reading a wristband's text or scan its bar code requires a line of sight between the wristband and the staff member. Because patients are likely to have their arms under bed sheets and blankets, identifying a patient could be a disruptive procedure under the old system (RFID chips, on the other hand, can be scanned through bedcovers).

"In a typical room, there are six patients, and on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, no one wants to turn on the room lights to read a wristband or wake the patient to get access to the patients wristband bar code," says Jerry Moy, senior client executive at Siemens Business Services's U.S. arm, which is based in the Norwalk, Ct.

In the two acute-care wards where the trial took place, patients usually stay less than five days, but during their time in the wards, patients will see multiple doctors and nurses across multiple shifts, so patient identities have to be checked often, according to Moy.

"We observed the existing process and then set about developing a system that used RFID to enable more positive interaction between care staff and patients," Moy says.

In addition to improving the way patients are identified, the trial sought to replace highly manual procedures for updating a patient's medical records. In that older system, notes on patients are written on paper and kept in three-ring binders wheeled around the wards in a library cart. When the staff needs to update information—such as a patient's medication or progress—the staff handwrites the information in the binder and later enters it into the patient's electronic records using a computer at the ward's nursing station. Replacing that system with the RFID tags and tablet PCs did away with having to enter the information twice—improving efficiency as well as improve working conditions for Jacobi's staff. "When you go to work in a hospital ward, you don't want to spend your time as a data-entry clerk," says Moy.

For the trial, Siemens Business Services deployed two Zebra R402 RFID printer-encoders at the admissions office, so that as patients were checked into the hospital and assigned to the trial ward, they were issued an RFID-enabled patient wristband was encoded with patient's MRN and the patient's name, date of birth, and gender in human-readable text, with the patient's MRN in bar code format and human-readable information. The bar code was included so that hospital staff could read the MRN using already existing Jacobi Medical Center lab, billing, and pharmacy information systems.

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