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Air Force Hospital Eliminates Equipment Loss, Reduces Labor Hours

A research team with Keesler Air Force Base's 81st Medical Group received approval last week for additional studies, to include the implementation of asset tracking at Columbus AFB, temperature monitoring and infant tracking, as well as bar-code and GPS technology pilots.
By Claire Swedberg
May 23, 2011After three years of piloting a real-time location system (RTLS) and other automatic-identification technologies at a single U.S. Air Force Base health-care location, researchers at the Air Force Surgeon General's office have received approval for the expansion of two current projects at Keesler Air Force Base, in Biloxi, Miss., and the implementation of an asset-tracking deployment at Columbus Air Force Base, located near Columbus, Miss., in order to gather data over a longer timeframe, as well as compare information regarding the technology's benefits at a smaller facility.

Additional pilots were also approved, involving temperature monitoring, infant tracking, specimen tracking and the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies to support the management of patients, staff members and equipment for mass-casualty events. The primary goal of this ongoing project is to find ways to increase the efficiency of health-care services through the use of RFID, ultrasound, bar-code and infrared technologies.

The pilots—part of a congressionally funded $7 million automatic-identification and data collection (AIDC) program for the U.S. Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) spanning several years—are being overseen by Larry George, the contract project manager of the Center for Partnerships in Research and Technology (CPRT), in the Office of the Assistant Air Force Surgeon General for Medical Modernization. George is also a retired Air Force clinical laboratory officer.

The pilots began in 2008, when the Air Force hired Shipcom Wireless to analyze opportunities for improving processes at Keesler Air Force Base's 81st Medical Group Hospital. The first project, launched that year as a proof-of-concept pilot, involved the deployment of RFID hardware from Awarepoint and RTLS data-management software provided by Shipcom Wireless, with the goal of tracking and managing mobile assets.

The hospital has found that a ZigBee-based, active RFID RTLS can eliminate the incidence of lost medical equipment and reduce the average time employees spent searching for equipment from 23.5 minutes per item down to 2.5 minutes. For the staff, that means saving 16,000 work hours annually that can now be focused on other tasks, thereby potentially leading to a reduction in some of the currently contracted equipment-maintenance expenditures.

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