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Air Force Keeps Tabs on Medical Equipment

Wright Patterson Medical Center will launch an RFID trial aimed at proving the benefits of tracking the location of medical equipment in the Air Force-run hospital.
By Beth Bacheldor
Mar 28, 2007The U.S. Air Force Surgeon General's Office is expected to begin testing an RFID system at the Wright Patterson Medical Center (WPMC). The system is designed to help the hospital track medical equipment critical for patient care. In addition, the system will help the hospital's logistics technicians more easily locate medical equipment requiring routine maintenance.

The pilot is a joint project between Verisign, which is providing program management, systems design and integration; Alien Technology's RFID Solutions Center, which is providing resources and equipment; and E. Smith Consulting LLC, which is providing subject matter expertise related, in particular, to health care. The pilot will run for six weeks, according to Elizabeth Smith, president of E. Smith Consulting.

WPMC is affixing 200 to 300 Alien Gen 2 squiggle tags, compliant with the EPC Class 1 Gen 2 UHF specification, to a variety of medical devices and equipment. These include emergency aspirators, electrocardiogram (EKG) monitors, defibrillators, infusion pumps, monitors for checking patients' vitals during transport, wheelchairs, beds and more.

Alien 9800 Gen 2 readers have been positioned at various choke points, including the entrance to the hospital's repair center in the basement, where medical devices are maintained and serviced. In addition, other interrogators have been installed at the hospital's atrium entrance, with several more on the first floor and at five choke points in the hospital's surgical unit on the third floor.

When tagged equipment passes through any of the choke points, the fixed interrogators read each tag's unique ID number and communicate that information to back-end software, which then associates the ID with information about the medical device, such as the last time it was brought in for maintenance. Hospital clinicians and technicians can then log into the software to check the whereabouts of the equipment.

"At the highest level," says Damon Bramble, general manager of Alien's RFID Solutions Center, "the goal of this is to use the inherent benefits of RFID technology to improve the visibility of the medical equipment, leading to reduced costs and improved patient care."

During the pilot, metrics will be collected to make sure the RFID tags and readers aren't interfering with any of the medical equipment, Smith says, and to analyze read rates. The pilot will help the office of the Air Force Surgeon General determine RFID's benefits, and whether to expand the pilot to other parts of the hospital.

The U.S. Department of Defense will also evaluate the pilot and use its findings to determine how RFID can be used to improve patient care and medical equipment maintenance, as well as provide more efficient inventories throughout the Defense Department's medical services network.

Smith expects the pilot to be successful. "We wouldn't have proposed the pilot if we didn't' think it would be beneficial," she says. "We expect to see improvement in the amount of time clinicians spend locating the equipment, and also improvement in the equipment maintenance by medical logistics staff."
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