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Virtua Health Expects Improved Bed Management From RFID

The New Jersey hospital operator's initial deployment will consist of 5,500 hybrid RFID-infrared tags from GE Healthcare, for tracking assets, patients and employees.
By Claire Swedberg
The system employs a combination of RFID and infrared technology, says Fran Dirksmeier, general manager of GE Healthcare's AgileTrac Solutions. The AgileTrac battery-powered 433 MHz RFID tag has a built-in IR receiver. The tags can be attached to assets, and patients can be provided with wristbands containing the tags.

Virtua will install an IR emitter on the ceiling in the center of each room of its four hospitals. The emitter transmits infrared signals encoded with a unique ID number. If a tagged asset or individual enters a room, the tag captures the signal from that room's IR emitter, then sends the emitter's ID number, along with its own, to RFID readers installed in the hallways, via a 433 MHz signal using a proprietary air-interface protocol. (The AgileTrac system is available in a 915 MHz version.) Those interrogators are wired to the hospital's back-end system, where AgileTrac software interprets the tag's location based on the IR emitter ID and the strength of the RFID signal, and makes that location available on a hospital floor map, with icons indicating each tag.

The system can determine tag location based on RFID signal strength alone, while the IR emitter ID provides greater granularity. The information is displayed both on PCs used by the nursing staff and hospital management, and on flat-screen TVs installed in the hallways. On the TVs, each patient's identification number is displayed for the staff, as well as his or her location, such as a patient room, an examining or imagining room, or some other part of the facility.

Initially, Campanella says, each patient will wear two wristbands—the hospital's traditional bar-coded wristband with that individual's identification printed on it, to be read by employees during that person's stay, and the AgileTrac tagged wristband, which has a unique ID number encoded in the tag but no identifying information printed on the front. Staff members will also wear AgileTrac tags to allow the hospital visibility into their location, for such purposes as tracking down a specific health-care provider quickly, or determining who can respond most rapidly to an urgent call. Workers' tags will be worn around the neck with a lanyard, he says. The hospital may eventually dispense with traditional bar-code wristbands, he notes, by integrating the bar code and printed material onto the AgileTrac wristband.

When a patient is first admitted and assigned a room, he or she will be given an AgileTrac wristband, and the hospital's staff will enter an estimated time of discharge into the AgileTrac system. Then, if a patient remains in that room for a significant span of time beyond that estimate, the system will send an alert. On the other hand, once the system detects that a patient has been out of the room for a preset span of time, and on schedule with the discharge estimate, an alert will be transmitted to the housekeeping staff. Those in admitting will also see on the system that a room has been vacated. Campanella likens the system to air-traffic control, in terms of how it will help Virtua manage its patients and beds.

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