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Christiana Uses RTLS to Get Patients to Bed

The health-care provider is employing a hybrid infrared-RFID system to track patients' locations and status, and to streamline the process of assigning each a bed.
By Beth Bacheldor
Dec 12, 2007In an effort to ensure beds are available whenever they're needed at its two hospitals, Christiana Care Health System, in Wilmington, Del., has integrated its real-time tracking system (RTLS) with bed-management software.

In its emergency wards, the health-care organization has been using an RTLS that includes Amelior EDTracker software from Patient Care Technology Systems (PCTS) and hardware from Versus Technology. The hardware consists of patient badges containing both active 433 MHz RFID tags that communicate via a proprietary air-interface protocol, and infrared transmitters, used in conjunction with infrared and RFID sensors that receive the signals from the badges. The RTLS is designed to enable emergency departments to monitor and analyze patients' physical locations and care status, then display that data in charts and graphs via LCD screens and computers. The newly integrated bed-management system was provided by Premise.

The RTLS was first installed in 2004 in Christiana Hospital, the larger of the two hospitals, located on a suburban campus south of the City of Wilmington. The hospital deployed about 500 reusable tags to help track and monitor the care of the approximately 100,000 patients that come through its emergency department each year. In 2006, Christiana Care installed the system at Wilmington Hospital, in the downtown business district of Wilmington. There, it employs about 300 tags for the approximately 50,000 patients treated at its emergency ward annually. In addition, the staff uses the badges as well.

Upon arrival at one of the emergency departments, a patient receives a fluorescent-green disc-shaped plastic badge with a clip for attachment to clothing. Each badge's RFID tag has a unique ID number, which is input into the system and correlated with the patient's information. The tags communicate their unique numbers by transmitting signals to about 300 infrared and RFID sensors situated through the emergency departments. In a typical deployment, the RFID sensors are spaced about 60 to 90 feet apart, while the infrared sensors are placed wherever an exact location is needed, such as in a room.

When a sensor receives a signal from a tag, it passes on the tag's unique ID number and its location to a collector, which forwards that data to a concentrator. In a typical implementation, there are 24 sensors to one collector, and four collectors per concentrator (which can typically cover a hospital floor). The concentrator shares the collected data with Amelior EDTracker, which staff can access via computers to track patient locations anywhere in the emergency and radiology units. Usually, the tags communicate via infrared signaling. The infrared technology, however, requires an unobstructed line-of-sight between the tag and the sensor; if a clear line of sight is unavailable, a badge uses its active RFID transponder to transmit its ID number.

The health-care organization implemented the RTLS to make it easier to track patients in its emergency rooms. Prior to the RTLS deployment, the staff needed to make numerous phone calls and physically canvass rooms to locate particular patients. But there was still an opportunity to leverage the RTLS to streamline other processes, says Chris Konen, project manager for both the Amelior EDTracker and Premise implementations— particularly the cleaning and assigning of beds to patients.

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