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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
Making the Upgrade
When the upgrade is complete, Lahey Clinic will be able to take advantage of a number of improvements made by GE Healthcare. The new system features an even smaller tag, about the size of a credit card but slightly thicker. The smaller tag can be put on more assets without interfering with their use. For that reason, Bortone envisions eventually tagging more classes of assets, even those used in specialty departments. For instance, some equipment never leaves the endoscopy suite, but Bortone says the hospital will benefit from better asset utilization and more efficient maintenance by knowing which room an endoscope is in.

Another important aspect of the upgrade is the ability to link GE Healthcare's IntelliMotion asset-tracking system with GE Healthcare's AssetPlus system, which manages preventative-maintenance schedules. Lahey has a contract with GE Healthcare under which on-site GE bio-medical engineers maintain the hospital's equipment. With the tracking and maintenance functions linked together, the AssetPlus system will send GE engineers an alert when, say, a defibrillator needs a routine check. The IntelliMotion system will then indicate precisely where that particular unit is located within the hospital.

Based on lessons learned from the initial deployment, Lahey is taking steps to make sure it gets the most value from its investment in the new system. One important lesson: It's vital to keep the system up to date. That means removing all assets from the system that have been discarded, as well as adding any new assets to the system as they are acquired. Failure to update all information about tagged assets reduces the system's effectiveness.

Another lesson learned: Maintaining the RTLS hardware and software is not easy. In the past, when the system crashed, it took time to get back up. Therefore, as part of the upgrade, Lahey will require GE Healthcare engineers in the hospital to tag new assets, remove discarded assets from the database and maintain the hardware and software.

"The in-house bio-medical engineers from GE Healthcare have a vested interest in the system because it gives them the ability to track preventative maintenance schedules," says Bortone. "Whatever company you partner with, you have to have resources from your hospital and your outsourced company dedicated to working together to maintaining the system." When a system doesn't operate properly, staff no longer trust it. "Down-time can bring a system to its knees," he explains, "because trust in the system is very critical."

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