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Hospital Robot Tracks Controlled Substances, High-Value Meds

Geisinger Medical Center is using an RFID-enabled robot to securely transport certain drugs throughout its facility, and to provide a real-time view into who sent and received each item.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 23, 2010For the past five years, Geisinger Medical Center, located in Danville, Pa., has employed Tug battery-powered robots from a company called Aethon to deliver medicine to patient-care units. This took some of the workload off the shoulders of its nurses and pharmacy technicians. But certain controlled substances and high-value pharmaceuticals could not be trusted to the robots. Employees had to deliver the drugs and manually record information regarding where they were moved to within the hospital, using pen and paper. But now that the drugs are fitted with passive RFID tags placed in an RFID-enabled version of the Tug known as MedEx, the robot can do the job.

With radio frequency identification—a technology that Aethon began building into some of its robots three years ago—the hospital can track which personnel loaded which robot with which medications, as well as who received them. Three of Geisinger's five robots have been equipped with the RFID system, which it began implementing in the fourth quarter of 2009. The other two robots carry hospital equipment, but no medication, so they require no RFID tracking.

John Jones, Geisinger's VP of system therapeutics
All of the Tug robots travel the floors of the eight-story health-care facility delivering medications and equipment to departments throughout several buildings, each fitted with an array of infrared and sonar sensors, as well as a laser scanner on each robot and a computer-aided design (CAD) map of the facility, to guide it from one location to the next. Based on the sensor data and the CAD drawing, the Tug transmits regular updates of its location via Wi-Fi, and can also call elevators, as well as avoid obstacles in the hallway, such as people. Once it is finished with its deliveries, the Tug—which can travel for 11 hours on a single charge—then goes to a docking station.

The robots save labor, the hospital reports, but were no help in delivering controlled medications, since regulations and the drugs' high value require greater oversight and thorough records regarding who sent and received them. This ensures that no drugs end up missing. For the hospital's pharmacy staff and nurses, this hand delivery of specific products can take time away from their other tasks. The solution was to put an RFID reader onboard the robot with an antenna that can capture ID numbers from any passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags on items as they are loaded into the robot.

Aethon previously offered a similar robot, known as the Homer, with an RFID reader that identified medical devices and tracked their whereabouts by means of active UHF tags attached to those assets (see Aethon Adds RFID to Robotic Hospital Helpers).

Once Aethon had retrofitted three of Geisinger's existing Tugs with an RFID interrogator and antenna, the system captured the ID number of every tag placed within drawers inside one of the RFID-enabled Tugs, says John Jones, Geisinger's VP of system therapeutics. When high-value or controlled substances are first received at the hospital, information such as the type of drug, volume, expiration date and serial number is input into Aethon's MedEx software, residing on Geisinger's back-end server.

Staff members then place a passive RFID tag on the drug container, such as a vial or pill bottle, and read that tag with a handheld reader, thereby linking the tag's unique ID with the pharmaceutical data. When medication is requested for particular patients, an employee picks the items out of cabinets and places them in drawers assigned for each patient-care unit. The bottom drawer is dedicated for RFID-tagged items, with the reader antenna located directly under that drawer.


Brittany Kapps 2010-09-28 06:19:22 PM
Great! Great Article!!

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