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German Hospital Expands Bed-Tagging Project

Bielefeld City Clinic will use RFID to track beds and mattresses as they move through an automated washing system, to make sure they're properly cleaned and to cut down on unnecessary procedures.
By Rhea Wessel
Once a patient no longer needs a bed, a head nurse uses the hospital's bed-management software, known as b.loc, to indicate whether that bed and its mattress should be completely disinfected or just cleaned (based, for example, on whether the patient using the bed had a highly infectious disease, or just a twisted knee). Another nurse or assistant brings the bed into the hallway, where it is eventually wheeled to an elevator and taken to the basement.

Upon arrival at the basement, the beds are taken to a central holding room. From there, workers push the beds past a wall-mounted RFID interrogator antenna, which reads the mattress and bed tags. The computer system informs the employees where to send each bed—either through an automatic bed-washing machine with the highest heat and longest duration settings, or through another one that merely washes down the beds. The bed is taken to the appropriate station, where its wheels are placed on a track, much like that used in an automatic car wash.

Thomas Jell
The track transports the bed and mattress through the station, until it emerges dry on the other end. At that point, the second and final tag interrogation is conducted, and the system is updated so hospital administrators can determine the number of available clean beds at any given time.

Each bed and mattress is tagged individually, because the hospital requires separate information regarding availability. A bed might need to be repaired but its mattress might be immediately reusable, or vice versa. After the cleaning, a worker checks the bed and mattress to make sure neither has been damaged, then wraps a green sheath over them to keep out dust until the bed can be reused. During the testing period, the hospital employed roughly 500 tags, 250 on beds and the other half on mattresses.

Bielefeld City Clinics conducts about 40,000 to 50,000 cleanings per year. The hospital is interested in RFID because it hopes the application can save it money and reduce any potential environmental impact by cutting down on unnecessary cleanings. By discerning which beds need a full-works wash and which can be cleaned less vigorously, the hospital hopes to save on cleaning supplies, reduce working time for personnel and limit the need for bed-frame repairs (since the number of repairs rises consistently as the number of washings increases).

While preparing for the second phase of the project, the partners plan to interrogate tags as the beds and mattresses enter the bed-washing machine as well. Once this additional point is added to the process, a green or red light will indicate if workers are wheeling a bed toward the proper machine.

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