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For Union Hospital, Recall of Vital-Sign Monitors Reinforces Value of RTLS

An IR/RFID hybrid system lets the Indiana hospital quickly pinpoint the location of its assets, reducing the quantity of equipment needed and the time spent searching for it.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 22, 2010Since installing a hybrid infrared (IR) and RFID system to track assets at its facility in Terre Haute, Ind., Union Hospital has reduced the man-hours it spends searching for items, eliminated the staff's tendency to hoard those items, and reduced the amount of rental equipment it requires. According to Douglas Smith, Union Hospital's director of materials management, since the Versus Technology Asset Management Solution was installed in two phases—in November 2009 and January 2010—the facility has saved labor hours equivalent to one full-time employee. Recently, he says, a recall of vital-sign monitors (used to measure a patient's blood pressure, pulse rate, temperature and blood-oxygen level) put the system to the test, and allowed employees to locate specific items that had been recalled in a matter of minutes, thereby enabling the manufacturer to immediately replace the recalled components on the monitors.

Union Hospital recently completed an expansion to its existing 370,000-square-foot West Campus, with the addition of a 580,000-square-foot east wing. Last year, with the expansion still underway, Smith sought a solution for locating missing equipment, which already created an efficiency problem in the existing west campus by causing workers to spend many hours each week searching for epidural and IV pumps, as well as other missing items. Such challenges were likely to become even greater with a square-footage increase of more than 100 percent.

Union Hospital screwed a Versus tag to the side of each of its IV pumps.
"We had hoarding going on," Smith explains, "and it was a constant battle to find the equipment that was needed." Because items such as epidural or IV pumps could be difficult to track down, the staff tended to horde those objects where they could always access them, exacerbating the problem of missing equipment. In addition, items such as wheelchairs and crutches were sometimes unavailable for patients when needed, and employees would have to walk the hospital floors searching for them. Staff members would have to make hourly checks of the soiled utility rooms, to determine if there was equipment there that required cleaning.

To address these issues, Union Hospital chose Versus' real-time location system (RTLS), which uses infrared technology for location tracking, as well as RFID as a back-up solution in the event that the IR signal is blocked or not operating properly. Versus' Advantages software for asset-tracking stores data related to the IR and RFID reads, and displays location information in the form of icons representing assets on a map of the facility. Smith says he liked the Versus solution because it came with modules that could later be added if the hospital so chose, such as a hand-washing tracking system, or a module for tracking refrigerator temperatures.

Versus has installed a total of 2,158 IR and RFID receivers to read transmissions from the tags, according to Tracy Shooltz, the company's customer service project coordinator. Battery-powered Versus VER 1832 tags, attached to assets via an adhesive, emit an IR beacon every three seconds that carries the tag's unique ID number. When the IR beacon is received by the IR reader within that location, the interrogator transmits its own ID number, along with that of the tag, to the Versus software system, which runs on the Union Hospital server but is not integrated with the facility's back-end system. "The Versus software is installed in application formats that can be launched and minimized to the toolbar, just as other programs on a Windows platform," Shooltz explains, though it need not be integrated with the hospital's management system.

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