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Our Lady of the Lake Boosts Efficiencies With Awarepoint's RTLS

The Louisiana medical center is using the technology to help it improve the availability and maintenance of vital assets.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 11, 2010Several years ago, the material-management staff at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL), located in Baton Rouge, La., could expect to receive an e-mail message or phone call from the hospital's emergency department at least once daily, seeking a piece of equipment (such as an IV pump) that was needed for patient care and had gone missing. The medical center had 600 IV pumps in its facility, but they were still difficult to locate on an immediate basis.

To address this problem, OLOL installed a real-time locating system (RTLS) known as Skytron Asset Manager (SAM), provided by Awarepoint. Since the system went live as a pilot in December 2009, the messages and phone calls have essentially stopped, says Allyn Whaley-Martin, OLOL's director of safety.

Bill Robertson, president of Covington Medical Systems
Before the hospital adopted the RTLS, its staff had trouble locating not only IV pumps, but also other assets used in several buildings. Mobile equipment, such as specialty beds, stretchers, wheelchairs and IV pumps, typically move throughout several floors of the hospital and into the adjoining medical office building. "We have 20 to 25 categories of assets that were expensive and moved between departments, making them very difficult to find," Whaley-Martin states. In addition, she says, the hospital rented equipment as needed, which often remained in the facility longer than necessary, simply because its location was unknown.

"The thing that pushed us [into seeking an RTLS system] was the perception of a shortage of IV pumps," Whaley-Martin states. Due to that perception, additional pumps were purchased several times when, in fact, a reasonable inventory was actually on hand. What's more, the hospital was struggling with maintenance issues, ensuring that no items missed their scheduled maintenance simply because they could not be found. Maintenance staff members often had to walk throughout the hospital looking for particular pieces of equipment, and a small percentage of items may have been missed because they couldn't be located.

The Awarepoint system features 2.4 GHz active RFID tags complying with the ZigBee standard. To date, the hospital has tagged 5,000 assets, more than 4,000 of which were tagged by March 2010, and another 1,000 of which were tagged by last month. All are now being tracked by readers covering an 800,000-square-foot area—every floor of the hospital, as well as the hallways of the lower two floors of the adjacent medical office building.

The system was deployed by Covington Medical Systems, a Skytron distributor based in Mandeville, La. Covington Medical Systems installed one RFID reader for approximately every 750 square feet. The readers, known as ZigBee sensors or access points, are plugged directly into power outlets. Each sensor can read the ID number of any tag that comes within its vicinity (the system provides room-level coverage). The sensor can then transmit that ID, as well as its own, which can be received by other access points. Those transmissions are ultimately collected by what's called a bridge, which forwards that data to Awarepoint's server via a cabled connection.

Covington Medical Systems installed one bridge for approximately every 10,000 square feet, says Bill Robertson, the company's president. The server, hosted by Awarepoint, runs Skytron's Asset Manager software for managing data related to asset location, as well as allowing reports and sending alerts, according to Valerie Fritz, Awarepoint's senior VP of marketing. The Awarepoint tags can also send and receive data to and from other tags. The system can pinpoint the location of each tag within approximately 3 meters (9.9 feet). Employees can access data on the Awarepoint server and search for an asset by inputting either a keyword or an ID number for that specific piece of equipment, and can then see an icon representing that item on a display of the hospital's floor plan. The system also enables users to seek a particular category of assets at a specified location within the hospital.

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