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Wake Forest Med Center Launches Vaccine-Tracking RTLS

The 4.1-million-square-foot hospital is deploying hybrid infrared-RFID technology to monitor vaccine temperatures, while future plans include tracking assets, patients, employees and hand hygiene.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 21, 2009Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) has begun an ambitious wireless deployment that will ultimately include tracking patients, staff members and assets throughout its 4.1-million-square-foot facility, but is initially focused on tracking temperatures within its 300 refrigerators and freezers.

The size of the medical center makes this the largest health-care tracking deployment, according to technology vendors implementing the system. Patient Care Technology Systems (PCTS) is implementing its Amelior Tracker software application in conjunction with the InTouchCare real-time locating system (RTLS) from Newton, Pa., health-care tracking technologies company CenTrak. The InTouchCare system employs infrared transmitters and sensors to determine the room-level location of its 900 MHz RFID tags.

Robert Parker, WFUBMC's VP for home and community health
WFUBMC, with 1,056 beds, provides health-care services to the Winston-Salem, N.C., area. Approximately three years ago, the hospital began looking into asset tracking for its infusion pumps, wheelchairs and other higher-value mobile equipment. "Our inventory has been growing, year in and year out," says Robert Parker, WFUBMC's VP for home and community health.

If assets could not be located, because they had either been removed from the facility or simply not stored where they should have been, additional equipment would have to be ordered. WFUBMC sought a solution that would help track assets, and have the flexibility to add features to the tracking infrastructure as time went on. The hospital initially tried an RTLS that utilized Wi-Fi-based RFID tags, but that system was unable to identify an asset's location to a specific room.

"We saw pitfalls associated with Wi-Fi and ZigBee," Parker says—namely, the lack of granularity in pinpointing an asset's location. The hospital also investigated ultrasound solutions, though it found no such system that was wireless and, thus, easy to install.

In March 2009, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices established a new guideline recommending that hospitals track the temperatures of vaccines twice daily, which would prove to be a labor-intensive task. For that reason, WFUBMC looked to the InTouchCare system to provide temperature monitoring, as well as asset tracking.

Approximately nine months ago, WFUBMC began testing the Amelior Tracker application with InTouchCare technology. On several floors of its facility, the hospital installed temperature-sensing InTouchCare tags in refrigerators, as well as attaching InTouchCare asset-tracking tags to mobile equipment. The sensors attach to the exterior of each refrigerator or freezer, with a temperature probe placed within. The pilot has led to a deployment that began early this month. By February 2010, when the hospital has completed a project to replace its existing infusion pumps with a newer model, it intends to begin tagging the new pumps, as well as other assets, beginning with 4,000 tags. In the meantime, PCTS is also installing about 1,300 infrared transmitters—one per room—and several hundred RFID antennas throughout the facility.

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