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Jackson Memorial Enlists Thousands of RFID Tags to Track Assets

By mid-March, the Miami hospital will have deployed 12,000 tags to track a variety of medical equipment, with plans to add another 8,000 in a second phase of implementation.
By Beth Bacheldor
Feb 25, 2009This week, Jackson Memorial Hospital admitted eight critical patients simultaneously—all American cruise ship passengers injured in a bus accident in Dominica, and airlifted to the Miami hospital. Doctors wanted to be sure they had all of the proper equipment available to treat the injured, and they did—thanks to a newly installed real-time location system (RTLS) from Awarepoint that the hospital is utilizing to track thousands of items throughout its nearly 4-million-square-foot, multi-building campus.

"The head of respiratory was able to find a ventilator using the RTLS in an area it shouldn't have been in, and where staff never would have looked," says Jasen Thacker, Awarepoint's account manager, who has been stationed on site at Jackson Memorial, helping to install the system. "The RTLS allowed the hospital to have this extra ventilator ready when the patients came in."

To date, Jackson Memorial Hospital, a 1,500-bed teaching hospital that is part of the Jackson Health System, has affixed approximately 6,500 active RFID tags on everything from infusion pumps to wheelchairs to ultrasound machines. By mid-March, Thacker, two contractors and three hospital staffers are expected to have tagged a total of 12,000 assets, affording everyone from doctors and nurses to pharmacy personnel and therapists the ability to search for and locate equipment throughout the facility.

When tags are affixed to the items, each asset tag's unique ID number is correlated with a visible asset control number on a bar code already affixed by the hospital. Thacker and the others use a handheld bar-code scanner to read the bar code printed on the asset tag, as well as the bar code printed on the item, thereby enabling the RTLS to link the item to its particular tag. At that time, any other available information can also be entered into the RTLS, such as the department to which the asset belongs.

The tags operate at 2.48 GHz, transmitting their unique ID numbers over the 802.15.4 (ZigBee) communications protocol, to small receivers (which Awarepoint refers to as sensors) that plug directly into standard 120-volt AC wall outlets. A tag or sensor can pass data to a main access point (known as a bridge) by first transmitting it to another tag, which then forwards the information to a third tag or sensor, or to the main access point, depending on whether the second tag is in range of the main access point. In the Awarepoint network, a tag can send data to a bridge through up to five other tags and receivers. The receiver forwards a tag's ID number and signal strength to a bridge, along with its own ID number and the time it read the tag, as well as the ID of the transceiver that may have previously picked up the tag's signal.

The bridges link, via an Ethernet cable, to a central Awarepoint server that calculates the locations of all tagged assets, then displays that information on a map of the facility. Any computer linked to the system's local area network (LAN) can access the map and employ Awarepoint's software to search for a specified type of asset. According to the company, the software can provide the item's location to an accuracy level of 1 to 3 meters (3 to 10 feet). The Jackson Memorial deployment, the company reports, provides an average location accuracy of 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) or better throughout the hospital, including in-room locations, as well as hallways and other defined areas.

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