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RFID Sees Gains in Health Care

A growing number of hospitals are leveraging their existing Wi-Fi networks to track valuable assets and locate personnel with active RFID tags.
By Mary Catherine O’Connor
Feb 15, 2006When Denver Health's new Women and Children's Pavilion opens in Denver this coming August, it will use a Wi-Fi real-time location system (RTLS) designed by PanGo Networks, a Framingham, Mass., a technology firm specializing in asset location software. Starting in March, El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif., will also deploy PanGo’s tracking system, which will be deployed by PanGo partner Eclipsys, an IT services firm for the health-care industry, located in Boca Raton, Fla. The PanGo system combines Wi-Fi tags with PanGo Locator, a software platform that calculates the locations of the tags throughout a facility.

At this week’s Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference and exhibition in San Diego, Wi-Fi RFID systems providers and hospital wireless infrastructure providers announced several new contracts and partnerships aimed at growing the number of health-care facilities testing or deploying the technologies together. More and more, health-care facilities are deploying RTLSs that use active 2.45 GHz RFID tags that send data over IEEE's 802.11 Wi-Fi protocol. The tags are attached to assets or integrated into identification badges, and the tracking systems are designed to help staff locate critical items such as ventilators, EKG devices, intravenous pumps and wheelchairs. They can even find other staff members when urgently needed. In most cases, the tags are read by Wi-Fi routers, made by such manufacturers as Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks, that are already deployed as part of the facility's wireless network.

Health-care facilities suffer significant financial losses through the expense of purchasing or renting devices they own but cannot locate. Moreover, not being able to locate assets and staff can degrade the quality of patient care.

Key to these types of RTLS deployments is the ability to link the location data with existing software systems already deployed within the health-care facilities, such as nurse-call systems or inventory and maintenance management software. Equally important is the ability to send alerts and asset or personnel location information to the appropriate parties over media they currently use—including PC-based e-mail, telephones, Wi-Fi-enabled PDAs and pagers. To facilitate this integration, the RTLS providers partner with third-party information technology software and services companies specializing in the health-care industry.

For example, San Mateo, Calif.-based AeroScout worked with Hatboro, Pa., wireless systems integration specialist InfoLogix on a Wi-Fi RFID system it deployed for Reading Hospital in Reading, Pa. The hospital is using AeroScout’s Wi-Fi tags to track and better utilize its infusion pumps. These tags are located using the company’s MobileView software. The hospital hopes the system will help it avoid ordering more pumps than it actually needs.

Catholic Medical Center-KangNam St. Mary's Hospital in Seoul, Korea, is also planning to deploy the AeroScout system. The medical center hopes this will help optimize the use of high-value assets and boost overall efficiency by making sure assets are where they need to be at all times.

Ekahau, another Wi-Fi RFID RTLS hardware and software platform provider, announced at the HIMSS show that the Dwight David Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., will deploy the platform to track and manage medical assets. The Ekahau tags are tracked using the company’s Positioning Engine software. According to Tuomo Rutanen, vice president of business development at Ekahau, a recent Government Accountability Office report said more than half of government hospital equipment is missing, lost or stolen.

Ekahau says Tuusula Hospital in Finland, Arras Central Hospital in France and Mayores Hospital in Calhorra, Spain, have also selected the Ekahau RTLS system to track assets and address safety concerns. The Ekahau tags contain a panic button staff can press when they find themselves in a dangerous situation.
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