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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
The software links the IR reader's ID number with its location, and the tag's ID with the item to which that tag is attached. Users can then view a display on a hospital computer monitor showing a map of the facility, and see an icon indicating in which room the item is currently located.

In large rooms, such as the trauma center, Versus installed a higher number of IR readers in order to provide greater granularity, indicating the part of the room in which the item is located.

If the tag's IR signal is not being received (if, for example, a blanket is covering the tag and its infrared beacon), the RFID system provides a backup—the tag emits a 433 MHz RFID signal, also beaconing every three seconds, using a proprietary air-interface protocol. That signal is received by separate interrogators deployed throughout the facility, which send data to a concentrator that, in turn, forwards that information to the Versus software via a cabled connection. The software verifies that the tag is still in the facility, Shooltz says, though the RFID portion of the system does not indicate the location with as much granularity. Instead of, for instance, indicating the room or bed at which the tag is located, it would specify a zone, such as "Patient Floor 5, West."

The software allows staff members to run business reports, such as the length of time particular items spend at specific locations, though Smith says he is still learning how those business analytics can best be used by the hospital. The most striking demonstration of the system, he says, occurred when there was an equipment recall. The facility had purchased 50 vital-sign monitors, and subsequently learned from the manufacturer that 15 of them needed to have their circuit boards replaced. The manufacturer had the serial numbers of the items that had been recalled, and Smith was able to look them up on the system in a matter of minutes, and locate each item within the hospital. "We gave the report to the rep," Smith states, "and he went with a staff member on site and made all the changes."

"The staff likes the system because they aren't going out blindly looking for equipment," Smith adds. While employees previously might have spent 45 minutes to an hour walking hospital floors in search of equipment they may or may not have been able to locate, now they simply find the items using the software. The hospital has tagged nearly 2,000 items to date, and intends to continue tagging new pieces of equipment as the biomedical department identifies those that need to be tracked.

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