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RFID Tidies Up Distribution of Hospital Scrubs

At St. Olavs, an RFID-based system tracks work garments, saving space and labor costs while improving inventory accuracy.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 06, 2007The more than 7,500 employees at St. Olavs Hospital, a large health-care center in Trondheim, Norway, treat approximately 50,000 patients annually. To support its massive staff and operations, the hospital owns and maintains more than 130,000 work garments, including operating gowns, robes and scrubs.

As part of the facility's massive reconstruction efforts over the past few years, it has deployed an RFID-based uniform-tracking system offering real-time inventory visibility of its uniforms. The company says this has led to savings in inventory space, labor and operational costs. Texi, a Norwegian textile management solution provider, designed and deployed the system for the hospital using passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags from Texas Instruments' (TI) and readers made by Feig Electronic. The tags, which are sewn into the garments, comply with the ISO 15693 and ISO 18000-3 standards.

Employees use their RFID-enabled personnel badges, which operate at 125 kHz, to open a uniform storage closet.

Under the old system, the hospital used a paper-based tracking system to ensure each ward was continually stocked with enough clean garments—in the appropriate sizes—for each staff member during every shift. However, this manual system sometimes suffered from inaccuracies that left employees scrambling for clean uniforms before their shifts. It also required valuable staff time to fill out the forms—an inefficient use of labor. Moreover, because the garments were stored on hangers and moved on a conveyor system between the laundry and storage facilities, this required substantial space inside the hospital.

The new system started as a pilot project in 2005 and has been fully deployed since September 2006. Employees use their RFID-enabled personnel badges, which operate at 125 kHz, to open uniform storage closets containing the uniforms they need on a given day. A 125 kHz reader is linked to a lock that disengages after calling up the employee's identity, based on the ID encoded to the personnel badge, and verifies that the employee has access to the uniform closet.

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