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The Lahey Clinic's RFID Remedy

A top Boston-area hospital has learned that RFID can cure problems associated with tracking and maintaining high-value mobile medical equipment.
By Mark Roberti
Improving Coverage
GE Healthcare and WhereNet installed the RTLS equipment for free as part of a pilot, so the system was deployed only in the hospital portion of the facility. That, however, reduced its effectiveness. A long corridor separates the hospital and the ambulatory care center, and the staff loses visibility of wheelchairs, oxygen pumps and other assets when the items go into the ambulatory clinic. (Interrogators were installed at the entrance to the corridor to the clinic, so inventory and maintenance employees know the items are in the clinic—they just don't know where.)

Because the system doesn't cover the entire facility, it's been difficult for the Lahey Clinic to take advantage of the reporting features within the system to show an improvement in asset utilization. "Once we expand the system to cover the entire facility," says Bortone, "we're confident that the reports will show we have increased our asset utilization."

Why? Well, today a nurse might need to search 20 different operating room suites for an ultrasonic Doppler monitor, but with the RFID system, he or she should be able to locate it via PC and have a support technician retrieve it.

"The system will give us the ability to redeploy our labor," says Bortone. "Nurses will be able to spend more time taking care of patients, as opposed to looking for equipment."

The new system will also reduce the problem of staff hoarding assets. "We did a count of our stretchers not too long ago and found we have more than we need," says Bortone. "If you can track them, you can tell people, 'We have a stretcher available,' and find one within the facility. That's a big benefit that will help us get a return on our investment."

As with any new technology, staff can be reluctant to use an RTLS at first. According to Bortone, however, once they realize they can quickly locate a piece of equipment they need, the advantages will become apparent. Still, he says, it's critical for the system to be accurate—and for staff to trust the information. "Because we didn't cover our entire facility, people couldn't locate some items, so they didn't have complete faith in the system," he says. "We're confident that when we roll this out to the ambulatory clinic and the Peabody facility, staff will have complete confidence in it."

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