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St. Andrew's Healthcare Gets Help in Real Time

The British mental-health institution is reaping a bunch of benefits from its Wi-Fi-based RTLS infrastructure, consisting of Motorola access points and Ekahau RFID tags and software.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 18, 2010St. Andrew's Healthcare, the United Kingdom's largest nonprofit provider of mental-health services, has implemented an RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) to enable staff members to send alerts, and to route them to the appropriate personnel. The organization is doing so prior to the establishment of government rules expected to require U.K. mental-health facilities to install RTLS technology.

St. Andrew's includes four campuses—Northampton, Essex, Mansfield (known as St. Andrew's Nottinghamshire) and Birmingham—with multiple buildings on each campus to house patients with mental disabilities, brain injuries and neurological disorders. Approximately 3,000 staff members work in the facilities, and when a dangerous situation or emergency occurs, such as a physical attack or a fire, they need to be able to quickly alert co-workers in the area. Previously, that had been accomplished using a system in which employees pressed a button on a badge, causing the device to emit an infrared signal indicating an emergency. The signal was received by IR sensors, and was then forwarded to a series of panels installed throughout each building. The panels emit an audible alarm and display text indicating where that alarm was set. Upon hearing such an alarm, the staff could then hurry to the panels to determine where help is needed.

Paul Kirkpatrick, St. Andrew's Healthcare's director of IT
The infrared system, however, requires an unobstructed line of sight between the badge and the sensor; otherwise, the alarm will not be triggered. Moreover, an employee may have left a location after pressing the alarm button, and responders would have no idea who called for help, or why, nor would they have any way to let that employee know they are responding to the call. In addition, the loud alarms—which are triggered 160 to 200 times each month—are disruptive to the staff, as well as to patients. In some cases, the frequent sounding of alarms has unsettled some patients.

Consequently, about 18 months ago, St. Andrew's, through its technical partner, Comtact, began seeking an alternative solution, according to Paul Kirkpatrick, the organization's director of IT. During that time, the U.K. government legislature was discussing the possibility that it might eventually require the installation of RTLS technology in health-care settings. St. Andrew's wanted to be proactive and implement such a system at all of its facilities.

"We spoke with Motorola, as well as other manufacturers," Kirkpatrick explains. Ultimately, St. Andrew's opted for Motorola's Wi-Fi routers, as well as Ekahau tags and software to determine the location of any employee who triggered an alert, and then forward that alarm to the appropriate staff members. While other wireless companies offered RTLS solutions, he says, St. Andrew's preferred the Motorola system because it believed it provided greater granularity, by building a mesh network with access points that send data to each other, working in conjunction with the Ekahau Positioning Engine software, which determines a tag's location by comparing signal strength data from the multiple access points. The solution also offered a self-healing functionality in the event that one access point failed, by transmitting data to the next working access point within the mesh.

In several of its buildings, St. Andrew's installed dozens of Motorola Wi-Fi access points, which do not require an Ethernet cable to connect to a building's computer system. Instead, they form their own wireless mesh network, employing the Wi-Fi protocol to communicate with other, and eventually the building's computer network. Access points on the edge of that wireless mesh network are powered by an Ethernet cable using Power over Ethernet (POE), and act as gateways to the wireless access points.

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