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RFID Prevents Valued Hospital Assets From Getting Trashed

Greenville Hospital System is employing EPC Gen 2 RFID tags to ensure expensive equipment is not thrown away.
By Beth Bacheldor
Apr 21, 2009Quite a few hospitals are using active RFID to help locate and manage portable X-ray machines and other equipment. The Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center is no different. But the South Carolina health-care organization, which spans five hospital facilities, has added an extra component: Its RFID solution also leverages passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags that identify expensive surgical probes before they end up in the trash. The tags will soon be used to keep tabs on approximately 5,000 medical devices, such as infusion pumps.

The RFID deployment, implemented in the surgical department of the organization's 750-bed tertiary Greenville Memorial Hospital, includes a mix of Wi-Fi-enabled active tags and EPC Gen 2 passive tags, a Cisco Wi-Fi network (currently installed in the surgical department, and being expanded throughout the entire hospital), ThingMagic's EPC Gen 2-based Mercury5 and Astra RFID interrogators, and an RFID portal from Industrial Portals, a division of Jamison Door.

When a trash cart containing a tagged surgical instrument passes an RFID portal, the system sounds an alarm and issues an e-mail alert to the appropriate personnel.

This flexibility enables the hospital to leverage various types of tags, including small passive RFID tags that can fit on surgical probes, each worth thousands of dollars. The probes are so small they are sometimes lost in soiled linens and disposable items removed following surgical procedures. "We decided to implement active RFID to track high-cost medical devices within our 30 OR suites, using a Wi-Fi network," says John Mateka, Greenville Hospital System's executive director of materials services. "But there are smaller devices that we also wanted to track. We are not so concerned about the location of these devices, but we want to identify if any of them inadvertently get thrown in the trash."

Integrated Business Systems and Services (IBSS), a Columbia, S.C., systems integrator and RFID solutions provider, worked with the hospital to set up an RFID portal in its hallway, through which all used disposable materials and soiled linens leave the surgical department and are moved, on carts, either to biomedical and standard trash bins, or to holding area for soiledlinens.

Now, if a cart containing a tagged surgical probe is pushed through the portal, the portal's built-in Mercury5 interrogator detects the tag and sounds an alarm, and an employee pushes the cart to the side, rather than continuing to take it away. At the same time, the portal captures the tag read and communicates that information, via the Wi-Fi network, to IBSS' SynTrack for Healthcare application, which automatically issues e-mail alerts to the appropriate personnel, thereby letting them know a cart may contain a probe.

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