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Oncology Clinic Gains Efficiency, Safety With RFID

The UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center is using EPC Gen 2 tags to track the amount of time that each patient awaits radiation treatment, and to verify that the correct equipment is being employed.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 27, 2011When oncology patients visit radiation therapy clinics, they typically schedule a series of short visits extending for weeks at a time (the average patient receiving external beam radiation therapy attends 29 treatments). As such, moving these patients efficiently from a facility's waiting room to the machines that accomplish the therapy is imperative to effective clinic management. Efficiency not only eases patient discomfort, it also ensures the maximum usage of the radiation machines. Clinics can treat a hundred or more patients daily, and in addition to requiring efficiency, those facilities must also ensure that the proper equipment is utilized with each patient, in order to properly immobilize the correct body part prior to radiation. Using the wrong equipment could result in the therapy not being carried out correctly. According to a Joint Commission study, published in the commission's Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, one in 500 radiation treatments experience an error.

CIVCO Medical Solutions, an Iowa-based medical division of Roper Industries, has designed the RFSuite RFID tracking and verification system to address the needs of oncology clinics. The solution employs EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags to track the movements of patients and staff members into and out of waiting and examination rooms, as well as through therapy, to ensure that no one waits excessively. What's more, says Geoffrey Dalbow, CIVCO's chief technology officer, the system is designed to ensure that the proper equipment is used on each patient; if a mistake is about to be made, an alert is issued to the medical staff before the radiation therapy begins.

With the CIVCO system, each piece of equipment is fitted with an EPC Gen 2 RFID tag (highlighted in yellow), and the patient is issued an RFID card or wristband.

At oncology clinics, patients typically undergo a consultation, followed by radiation simulation, at which time the proper equipment is identified to fit the body part in which that patient's tumor is located, and to properly angle and immobilize the body so that radiation will be directed to that tumor. The equipment selected for that patient is of a specific size and type, and must be used when he or she undergoes treatment.

Approximately two years ago, the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center began seeking an automated solution to track patients, equipment and employees. To that end, the hospital began working with CIVCO—which, according to Todd Pawlicki, the director of medical physics and clinical operations at the radiation oncology department of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), was the only company offering such a solution.

CIVCO installed a system to track the locations of tagged individuals and equipment throughout the clinic's two buildings. The facility treats about 100 patients daily, using one internal and four external radiation machines. In approximately three months, Pawlicki expects the number of patients treated per day to grow by 30 percent to 50 percent. The use of RFID, he predicts, will assist the transition into that greater patient volume. "Not only will it be important to help us manage our growth," he says, "but once we identify workflow procedures, it will help us maintain efficiency."

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