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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
Over the course of the trial, the hospital issued the RFID wristbands to approximately 200 patients. The wristbands, which contain a passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag, were made by San Fernando, Calif., Precision Dynamics Corp. (PDC). The hospital didn't deploy any fixed readers but instead equipped five tablet PCs with RF PC Handheld Readers from ACG Identification Technologies, an RFID equipment supplier based in Walluf, Germany. The readers were fitted into the PCMCIA slots of the tablet PCs.

Siemens Business Services also developed the software to encode the patient's medical record number on the RFID wristband's RFID tag and also developed the user interface on the tablet PCs for reading the tag.

The trial system allowed a doctor or nurse to take one of the five tablet PCs deployed for the trial from their docking stations mounted on a medical cart before staring his or her rounds. The PC's RFID reader delivered a read range of 4 to 5 inches, which enabled staff to be certain of which patient's tags was being read. Once the device read the RFID tag in a patient's wristband, an application—written by Siemens Business Services and integrated with the hospitals existing electronic patients records system—immediately displayed the patient's medical file on the PC's screen.

"What we developed was an automatic script so that whenever a patient was scanned the PC would access the clinical information system bringing up the patients records without a key stroke," says Morreale.

The PCs access the hospitals other electronic applications over a wireless network installed for the trial. Any new information to go into the patients file can be entered directly into the patient's electronic record, doing away with any need to make handwritten notes that required later entry into the hospital's electronic record system. In addition to eliminating the bulk of its paper forms, the RFID-based system also ensures that the information used by its medical staff is always up to date.

According to Morreale, the investment in the trial and the cost of expanding the system across the hospitals other wards is more than outweighed by the improved service enabled by the RFID-based system.

"The wristbands will cost an average of $65,000 a year to cover the 47,000 admissions we have a year, and we don't need additional printer-encoders, as the admitting department already has two machines to provide some redundancy," says Morreale.

Expanding the system across other hospital operations next year will also mean spending an additional $325,000 to acquire and deploy another 165 tablet PCs equipped with RFID readers and to train staff to use them. That expense, combined with tag costs, is still well below the predicted $1 million in annual savings that the hospital projects it can make from deploying the RFID system across its patient operations. However, the real benefits stem from providing improved services, says Morreale. "This system means significant savings in dollars and in patient time, but underpinning that, patients get more time with doctors and nurses, and they are more satisfied," he says.

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