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Japanese Hospital Tests BLE Beacons to Track Patient-Staff Interactions

The solution, provided by SATO Healthcare, is undergoing a proof-of-concept at Nagoya University Hospital to track not only the movements of staff members around its facility, but also the vital signs and locations of patients, in order to understand nurse responses to changes in a patient's status.
By Claire Swedberg

Both types of beacon devices transmit data to fixed beacon receivers installed in the ceilings of hospital rooms (one per room). The software further identifies an individual's location down to the bed level, Konuma adds, by employing angle of arrival (AoA) triangulation rather than signal strength, due to AoA's higher level of precision.

Once a patient is assigned a wristband, the sensors begin collecting vital sign measurements, which are then transmitted to gateway readers via BLE, along with the wristband's unique ID number. Those gateways capture the data and forward it to third-party software, hosted on the cloud. The patient's own identity is not stored with the wristband ID.

If a patient's vital signs become a concern, such as a rapid change in heartbeat rate, the software will display an alert for the hospital staff on the monitor at the nurse's station. In the future, the facility might opt to send alert data directly to nurse call terminals or smart devices carried by employees, in order to get alerts more immediately in front of those who should respond.

The staff members currently carry their own beacons, inserted into nurse-card holders. In the future, however, SATO plans to equip staff members with modified MEDiTAG beacons. As employees move around the facility, each individual's location is monitored, as well as the patients with whom he or she meets, and for how long.

If the proof-of-concept proves to be successful, the hospital plans to consider a permanent installation. SATO Healthcare may also commercialize the solution for other hospitals in Japan and abroad. For Nagoya University Hospital, beyond the there are multiple options for the technology use beyond the PoC.

"I see three possibilities," Oyama says. In one scenario, the hospital could deploy the technology within other facility wings, in order to ensure optimized staffing levels during busy shifts. The facility could also use the platform as a testbed for new ICT or IoT health-care devices. Finally, Oyama adds, the technology could be configured with the minimal number of antennas and deployment size to enable it to be easily deployed at other hospitals.

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