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Maryland's Medical Examiner to Track Human Bodies Via RFID

After using EPC Gen 2 passive UHF tags and readers to track paperwork for one year, the organization expects to soon begin utilizing RFID wristbands to track the decedents as well.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 13, 2011When staff members at Maryland's Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) require paperwork pertaining to a human body being stored at the Baltimore facility, it could be located at a variety of places. During the 72-hour period in which a decedent remains at the office, the folder containing these paper documents moves to at least three or four locations onsite. The paperwork is used by a variety of individuals, including office employees and visitors.

To better manage those files—of which the office currently has approximately 30,000—OCME's managers had sought a real-time locating system (RTLS) for about four years. They considered several solutions before selecting FileTrail's solution, which employs ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID technology, and provides a software platform known as FileTrail Professional that manages data from 11 different readers. Because the system is working so well, says Michael Eagle, OCME's director of information technology, the office plans to begin utilizing it to track the bodies themselves, starting in 2012. With data regarding a corpse's location, the office will know if that body has been kept out of refrigeration, and for how long—an important piece of information, since many of the bodies provide organs for transplant procedures, and must thus be kept refrigerated in order for those organs to remain viable.

Michael Eagle, OCME's IT director
When a decedent arrives at the medical examiner's office, a worker assembles a folder that includes paper records about that individual's identity, then time of arrival and any expected procedures (such as examination by a physician to determine the cause of death and, when appropriate, the harvesting of organs), as well the results of those procedures. Access to the folder is granted to numerous individuals, including OCME's staff, physicians, forensic pathologists, and attorneys or other visitors. Although a body remains on site for only about 72 hours, its file circulates from one floor to another, and often to a third or fourth floor, and can thus be difficult to find. "We need to track it as it moves," Eagle explains. Without an RTLS solution in place, he says, "We have to guess where the file will be," and then begin walking around, looking for it.

It is critical that the corpses themselves remain at a cool temperature, Eagle says. Employees can ensure that this is the case by monitoring the time at which each decedent arrives at the facility, and when the body was delivered to, for example, a medical examiner for investigation. In the event that there is any question as to how long a particular body has remained unrefrigerated, its organs can not be donated.

According to Eagle, the office looked into a variety of RTLS solutions for managing files, but found that they were typically proprietary—meaning the technology could be used only with other hardware from the same company—whereas he and his colleagues wanted an open system that could potentially be expanded and shared with other government agencies. Therefore, they selected FileTrail's UHF Gen 2 passive RFID system, using fixed and handheld readers provided by Motorola Solutions and tags from Alien Technology. OCME initially considered tracking files only, says Darrell Mervau, the RFID firm's president, but while discussing the solution with FileTrail, the agency realized that the technology could also be used to monitor the bodies themselves. Ultimately, however, it opted to begin with a file-tracking project, and to spend about one year determining how well it worked.

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