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Infrared/RFID Tags Help Anne Arundel Medical Center Reduce Labor Costs

The Maryland hospital is deploying Versus Technology's hybrid system to help it accurately locate equipment throughout its facility.
By Claire Swedberg
"Infrared is our primary technology for granularity," Snowday says. Unlike an RF signal, the infrared signal emitted from the tag's light emitting diode (LED) can not pass through walls and other opaque surfaces. Because of that limitation, a tag's infrared signal can be read only in the room containing the item to which that tag is attached.

Snowday maintains that RFID can not allow a reader to pinpoint location with as much accuracy. "There is no way to control an RF signal to that level of reliability," he says. "With RF alone, you can get good location accuracy," but only by deploying an increasing number of antennas. He adds, "You could start to approach the level of granularity that infrared provides, but you would spend more money than you would want to." On the other hand, the RFID component provides greater reliability when the infrared system fails to read, though Snowday indicates the infrared component does not fail often.

Each Versus VER 1830 tag contains a battery-powered chip that controls the RF and IR components. The tag transmits its RF and infrared signals simultaneously every three seconds, both encoded with the same unique ID number. The RFID component transmits a 433 MHz RF signal, using a proprietary air-interface protocol; the infrared component transmits a light signal that is imperceptible to the human eye.

The system employs two kinds of readers. RFID sensors mounted on the ceilings capture the unique ID number via the tag's RF transmission, while the Versus infrared sensors simultaneously capture the unique ID number via the tag's IR signals. Both types of sensors can read tags up to 40 feet away. Versus has installed them in every room, and in hallways and common areas as well. Upon receiving a tag's the readers forward the tag's unique ID number and location-related data via a wired connection to a concentrator that captures all of that information, then sends it back to Versus' VISion software, running on a server.

VISion analyzes the infrared and RFID data, and pinpoints the tag's whereabouts. It then displays that location on a floor map of the hospital, enabling hospital employees to then see the item's location, updated every three seconds. "They can log in and choose a selection, such as the type of equipment," Constantineau explains, "or do a search by floor."

Thus far, Constantineau says, the staff has been offering suggestions regarding the types of items they would like to add to the system. Although tagging began with a few frequently used medical devices, it has since expanded to items for housekeeping and kitchen staff as well, such as vacuum cleaners and food carts. The hospital is now in the process of constructing a second patient tower. By the time it completes that project, which it expects to do by the first quarter of 2010, the hospital expects to have tagged more than 3,000 assets.

This month, the medical center began utilizing a Versus software system known as Versus Reports Plus, which enables the facility to track such things as where items congregate, where they are most frequently used and whether those items' storage location is the closest to the area in which they are typically used. Eventually, Constantineau says, Anne Arundel also plans to expand the system to incorporate the tracking of patients and staff, with initial testing of that capability slated to take place in April 2009.

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