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Toledo Hospital Aims for Greater Visibility

A ZigBee-based system from Awarepoint enables the facility to track its assets and rental equipment by plugging tag readers into wall outlets around the campus.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 30, 2009The University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC) is using an active RFID system that transmits over a ZigBee wireless mesh network to track more than 1,000 assets in several buildings throughout its hospital campus. The system, the hospital reports, provides it with greater visibility into its assets and leased equipment, thereby saving it money.

"We had a problem with equipment disappearing, and we needed to find a way to stop that," says Steven Hanenkrath, UTMC's manager of technology support. The hospital did not want a solution that would require the installation of new infrastructure (such as RFID readers) or the expansion of its existing wireless Wi-Fi network by adding access points in locations where Wi-Fi-based RFID tags could not be read.

RTLS provider Awarepoint offered another option: deploying tag readers known as sensors around the facility by plugging them directly into 120-volt outlets. Awarepoint's sensors and battery-powered tags transmit their unique ID numbers over the IEEE 802.15.4 (ZigBee) communications protocol, thus enabling them to function as transceivers. Each communicates with others through the mesh networking protocol until their data is received by an Awarepoint bridge, which utilizes a cabled Ethernet connection to route the data to Awarepoint software running on the hospital's server. The software then pinpoints each tag's location via triangulation and signal strength.

In 2008, Awarepoint first set up sensors and a bridge in a conference room area to demonstrate the technology, after which UTMC chose to install the system at its six-story hospital, as well as in portions of two other facilities where assets were stored or used—the central supply area in one building's basement, and the library room in which training with equipment is undertaken in another. The resulting installation of the Awarepoint Real-Time Awareness Solution covers 700,000 to 800,000 square feet, Hanenkrath says, in which Awarepoint's software pinpoints the location of tags within one to three meters (3.3 to 9.9 feet).

In spring 2008, the hospital initially tagged 1,000 assets, including IV pumps, patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) pumps, telemetry transmitters and continuous positive air pressure machines (CPAPs). Last month, Awarepoint ordered 1,500 additional asset tags and 50 temperature-monitoring tags, thus expanding the deployment to include more assets, as well as refrigerators and freezers. In addition, the hospital installed a total of 676 sensors, each with a read range of 750 to 1,000 square feet, and 40 bridges.

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