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NFC Brings Visibility to British Home Care

U.K. home-care providers are testing an NFC system from mobile-phone service provider O2 that allows them to track and update a patient's records using their own mobile phones and an NFC tag at a patient's home.
By Claire Swedberg
Employees who visit patients each carry a Nokia NFC-enabled phone. They attach an adhesive tag measuring 40 square millimeters (0.06 square feet), manufactured by one of several third-party providers, to a wall in the home of each participating patient. Each time a care provider arrives at the patient's home, he or she then taps the mobile phone near that tag and captures its unique ID number. The phone then sends that ID number, as well as its own unique ID, to a server managed by Resling.

Resling's Mobile Client Builder—phone user interface software—translates the data from the tag reads, links it to a patient and updates that individual's records. It can also trasnmit the patient's records back to the user's mobile phone. In that way, the records can be updated to indicate that a specific health-care provider (the employee linked to the mobile phone's ID number) has visited a particular patient (linked to the tag ID), as well as the exact time and date of the visit.

Although the trial has thus far been focused on these "time and attendance" details, Dean says, the system can also be used with many additional features. The home-care provider could access data regarding which services the patient has received, for instance, and follow a drop-down menu on the mobile phone that could instruct him or her to provide specific services, such as administering medication.

The user would then update the system by following prompts on the phone as to which services he or she has provided. Each menu option can be configured for a particular requirement, such as opening a Web page, requesting data input or making a remote call to retrieve data from any external database. "Dozens of different features can be customized for each single menu node," says Claire Maslen, O2's head of NFC.

In addition, the O2 system can be utilized to track the medications being taken. Home-care providers attach an NFC tag on a medication dispenser with a locking feature that, when prompted by the mobile phone, could release a specific number of pills for the patient when authorized. In this way, records of prescription drug use could be stored in the back-end system, while users would be prevented from accidentally taking too much of a specific medication. A patient could also use the NFC system for safety purposes, since it could include a feature to transmit an alert in the event of an emergency if that individual presses a prompt on his or her own mobile phone.

"We're talking to a number of organizations," Dean says, including other health-care providers, and the trial is expected to continue with additional features throughout the coming year. "This is not a trial with a strict procedure—we're looking at how we can expand over time," he says, predicting that "we can expect quite a dramatic expansion over time." Feature expansions, he adds, "could only be limited by the imagination of the organizations that want to use it."

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