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Innsbruck University Hospital Finds Safety Through RFID

Staff members at the medical center's emergency and psychiatric wards use Wi-Fi-based tags to call for help and respond to alarms from colleagues.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 01, 2010Austria's University Hospital in Innsbruck has installed two RFID-based alarm systems to track workers at its facility who may be confronted with aggressive patients. One system is used by emergency-room employees who deal with potentially dangerous situations, such as those involving drunken individuals who come to the hospital for care, while the other is intended for attendants at the psychiatric ward. Both deployments depend on Ekahau's Wi-Fi-enabled battery-powered RFID tags and real-time location system (RTLS) software.

The emergency-room system, which was rolled out in September of this year, outfits roughly 50 employees with Ekahau's Wi-Fi-based T301BD badge RFID tags, which they carry in their pockets. A caregiver concerned for his or her safety can press a button on the palm-size device, and the system will locate that worker within the building and notify colleagues also carrying the device to come to his or her assistance. The employee knows the help signal was sent upon hearing a beep.

Ekahau's T301BD badge RFID tag
All who work within the same ward and carry the device also hear a beep once the alarm is received, and are required to respond by pushing a button on their own devices, and by coming to their co-worker's aid. They receive a text message detailing the location of the colleague in need of help, along with a time stamp indicating when the alarm was activated. The system's designers labeled zones within the hospital to describe the origin of the alarm. For instance, the text message may indicate that the individual requiring help is located on the second floor in the southern zone.

Workers sitting at select PCs also receive each alarm signal, as well as a map of the ward's layout on their screen. The map illustrates where the incident was reported, and also informs workers that a colleague is in need of help. Further details, such as a history of the alarms sent from the same device, are available to supervisors at different computers.

"Due to severe legal restrictions and challenging reservations regarding privacy of employees in Austria, the device is not assigned to an individual person," says Andreas Gereke, the head of innovation and research solutions at ITH Icoserve Technology for Healthcare, which supplied its ProAct personal emergency call application for both deployments. "People fear to be tracked all the time."

If the incident de-escalates, or if sufficient workers arrive at the scene of the incident, the worker who had originally sent the alarm signal can use the same system to notify other colleagues that the situation is under control, and that their assistance is no longer required.

"We needed a system that was easy to use and allows people to get help without leaving the scene of the incident," says Franz Gruber, the chief nurse heading the team of caregivers at the hospital's psychiatry ward. "It has proven very practical that the alarms can be retracted. During every shift, two or three alarms are sent, and roughly every fifth alarm is withdrawn."

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