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Scottish Hospital Locates and Maintains Equipment with RFID System

Royal Alexander Hospital is using RFID to phase out equipment libraries and the costs associated with checking equipment in and out.
By Beth Bacheldor
Mar 28, 2007A U.K. hospital has completed a four-month project to determine if active RFID tags could help it efficiently track portable medical devices, such as infusion pumps and blood pressure monitors, and to eliminate the need for the centrally-located equipment library or other room typically used by caregivers to check out the equipment.

Royal Alexander Hospital, located in Paisley, Scotland, and part of the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Healthboard, is a district general hospital that provides a wide range of acute and community-based medical services. The hospital worked with Mantic Point Solutions, a software provider in Leeds, England, to test active 433 MHz RFID tags on a group of medical devices. The project's objective was to test whether the use of RFID could provide the hospital with an accurate record of where its medical devices were at any given time. "It is hoped that this would reduce the time required by technical and clinical staff to find equipment," says Jason Britton, a clinical scientist with Royal Alexander Hospital's medical physics department.

With automated tracking capabilities, Royal Alexander Hospital and other health-care organizations could supplement—or even replace—the need for equipment libraries, which are used to pool a variety of medical devices shared by different wards within a hospital. Although such libraries provide a central place to check out equipment, Britton notes, there are costs associated with setting up and staffing them. Moreover, when caregivers fail to return equipment to the libraries, the items must be tracked down manually.

Therefore, the hospital decided to test the RFID technology "to see if the service could accurately and reliably locate sensitive medical equipment without interfering with that equipment," says Mike Atherton, managing director for Mantic Point, "and to evaluate a distributed, rather than centralized, approach to asset management."

During the test, interrogators were installed at several choke points on one floor of the hospital: two were positioned at the entrance of individual wards, with a third positioned at the entrance to a group of three wards. The test utilized tags from Wavetrend Technologies. Whenever a tagged device passed through an RFID-enabled choke point, the RFID interrogators documented the tag's unique ID number and communicated that data to Mantic Point's Chaperone software via the hospital's local area network (LAN).

The asset-tracking software runs on PCs and aggregates all RFID data to provide caregivers the ability to look for medical equipment using a menu-driven search functionality. According to Atherton, the software associates the unique ID with such asset information as the areas in which the equipment is permitted, or the assets' maintenance scheduling. Chaperone has a rules-based engine that lets organizations set up alerts. For example, it can be set to send a text message to technicians when specific devices need routine maintenance. Chaperone also maintains an audit trail so organizations can track equipment usage by department, time of day or other metrics.

Britton says caregivers at Royal Alexander were cautiously enthusiastic about the RFID implementation during the test, which was conducted between February and May 2006. "They could potentially see the long-term benefits," Britton says. Now, the hospital is planning to install RFID in its emergency and receiving wards, though Britton declines to provide further details on expansion at this time since that project is ongoing.
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