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RFID Can Simplify Maintenance of Patient-Monitoring Devices

If medical equipment manufacturers integrate dual-interface RFID chips into the devices they make, hospitals could use the technology to communicate with those devices, access maintenance records and alerts, and upgrade software.
By Thomas Lavallee
Benefits of Managing System Data
A simple failure can make the difference in regard to patient outcome. It should come as no surprise that the failure of a monitoring device's battery backup is high on the list of issues plaguing the industry. System self-test alerts can go unreported, and can later reoccur at the most inopportune moments. For bedside monitors, this can be reported through a central monitoring capability, and corrective action can be performed, thus averting a serious problem.

Portable and body-worn monitors present a more challenging array of issues. One is that these segments are the fastest growing, and interoperability standards are only recently becoming a clear focus. A recent example is the Continua Health Alliance, which has selected four main interfaces for interoperability: USB, Bluetooth, Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) and ZigBee. The common thread here is that the monitors need to be powered up and operating (that is, in service) for these interfaces to be reporting, thus indicating they are in use. Once they are removed from service, the monitor and any error messages often end up disassociated from each other, thereby upping the level of difficulty to mitigate or even identify any issues.

One of the newer and more difficult challenges with regard to portable and body-worn monitors is the fact that such devices are being sealed to keep moisture out and make cleaning and decontaminating easy, without the possibility of damaging the electronics. Adding connectors or attempting to combine functions on connectors increases bulk, expense or system complexity at the sensor ports.

Reading and Writing Relevant Data
Having a single readable, reliable traceable data source from manufacturing through operational status is a valuable tool for keeping these assets in service. Let's take a look at some examples, starting with the manufacturing process. The manufacturing date, revision level, production line and location, serial number and a myriad of other types of data have long been jotted on sticky labels, using lot codes and other condensed methods. This type of information is basic for quality control and equipment traceability.

Today's system requires option configuration, multiple calibration constants for sensors, service interval data, and more. Some solutions have user-programmable hot keys that a care facility could utilize to set and lock these functions. So much for the housekeeping data—what about the "check engine light"? Recording and having access to real-time error events can drastically reduce maintenance and out-of-service times.

One means of enabling this is to provide each piece of monitoring equipment with an RFID tag that connects to it via an I²C port.

Dual-interface memory is versatile.

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