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RFID-Enabled Journal Helps Track Pain

Meridian Health is piloting a system it helped develop that has an active RFID tag that logs a patient's reported pain at home, as well as the effectiveness of any medication he or she takes to reduce discomfort.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 04, 2010Meridian Health, which operates five New Jersey hospitals and a home-care service, is conducting a pilot of its patients using an RFID-enabled pain-management product known as Impak Health Journal for Pain, which was developed by Meridian in partnership with silicon chip company Cypak. The journal is being marketed by Meridian's and Cypak's new joint venture company, Impak Health. Approximately 22 patients are currently testing the Health Journal for Pain, an RFID-enabled cardboard foldout printed with several questions for patients to answer regarding their pain management. A patient can input his or her answers to those questions by pressing buttons on the card, which is later placed on an RFID reader to upload those responses into a database accessed by that individual's physician.

Meridian began working with Cypak on this system earlier this year, as a way to provide better accounts of pain management for patients with chronic conditions, thereby affording doctors a view of those patients' daily experiences in their home. The system is the response to what Sandra Elliot, Meridian Health's director of consumer technology and service development, calls a unique challenge. The health-care firm is located in central New Jersey, where the elderly represent a larger percentage of the population than in most areas of the United States—as much as 25 percent, she says, are over age 65. And as the population continues to age, the pressure on hospitals and physicians is likely to grow as well. "That raises the question: What else should we be doing to connect with people, without bringing them necessarily into hospitals or physician offices?" she says.

With Impak’s RFID-enabled Health Journal for Pain, patients read questions regarding their pain management, and then input their answers by pressing buttons on the card.

To address those with chronic disease by improving medication management and offering greater independence and safety when not in a health-care setting, the hospital began seeking technology that would help it track an individual's health and symptoms. Many patients are assigned the task of maintaining a pain journal on paper, which doctors can then use to determine the next course of action, such as changing medication or recommending surgery. But many patients find paper-based journals difficult to fill out, and instead rely on their memories of pain upon visiting their physician.

The new option, which has been piloted by Meridian since June of this year, allows that process to be handled electronically. Pilot participants receive a Health Journal for Pain, consisting of a pocket-sized piece of cardboard folded in three, and printed with a list of questions and rows of response buttons. The journal contains an embedded battery-powered 13.56 MHz RFID inlay that can store data and transmit that information to a reader. The RFID inlay, which supports 13.56 MHz Near Field Communication (NFC) and ISO 14443-A RFID specifications, is developed and provided by Cypak.

A patient answers questions about the severity of his or her pain when taking his or her normal pain-suppression dose, upon taking a higher dosage for breakthrough pain (discomfort that comes on suddenly and is not alleviated by the normal regimen), and one hour after taking the medication. The patient can also rate his or her pain once weekly, on a scale of 0 to 10. The journal emits an audible beep to indicate when a button has been successfully pressed. The data is saved to the RFID tag, which has sufficient memory to store up to two reports daily for 36 days, for a total of 72 reportings.

When that patient then visits one of the two physician offices participating in the pilot—located in New Jersey's Monmouth or Ocean counties—he or she places the journal on a desktop Continua Certified Smart Cable reader, developed by Cypak. The interrogator captures the journal tag's unique ID number, along with all of the pain and medication data reported on it. The device plugs into a computer's USB port, and Impak software running on that PC downloads and displays the results for the physician's office staff, explains Albert Baker, Cypak's strategic alliances VP for North America. The pilot, launched in June, will continue until October, with the goal of including around 200 participants before the trial period ends.

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