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Veterans Affairs Implementing RTLS Across Seven Midwest Hospitals

The facilities, located in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, are installing six different types of real-time location systems, as well as passive RFID tags and other auto-ID technologies, with all data managed by Intelligent InSites software on a single platform.
By Claire Swedberg
VISN 11 spent at least five years evaluating the proper RTLS solutions that would accommodate the seven medical centers. Each facility required a system for four use cases—the tracking and management of assets, the monitoring of temperature and humidity levels, the tracking of items for the cardiac catheterization lab, and the sterile processing services (SPS) workflow related to surgical instruments. One of those hospitals (located in Ann Arbor, Mich.) has now been taken live with its RTLS solution for most of the use cases being targeted. Another is nearing completion, while a third is beginning installation this month, with three more in the early stages of implementation. The final center is slated to go live in May 2013.

The centers are installing a variety of RTLS hardware technologies, each selected to provide the best results for the specific hospital and the needs of its staff. The technologies include Wi-Fi-based RFID solutions provided by AeroScout and Ekahau, a hybrid infrared (IR) and 900 MHz active RFID tag system from CenTrak, an IR and 900 MHz active RFID tag solution supplied by RF Code, a ZigBee-based active RFID tag system from Skytron and Awarepoint, and an ultrasound-based RTLS solution from Sonitor Technologies. In addition, a variety of passive RFID tags and handheld readers are being utilized.

At each medical center, the active RTLS solutions track and locate high-value mobile medical equipment, such as infusion pumps, patient monitors, ventilators, wheelchairs and hospital beds. Passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags are being applied to lower-valued items, in order to speed up inventory processes and automate reordering, typically by hospital staff members equipped with handheld readers.

Passive 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) tags compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, provided by WaveMark, are applied to consumables, such as catheters and stents, stored in RFID-enabled cabinets within the cardiac catheterization labs, to automatically assess quantities on hand, and adjust PAR levels as needed. HF technology, as opposed to UHF, transmits more effectively around the concentration of metal in the cabinets (for example, catheters are often packaged in aluminum). However, adds Marcus Ruark, Intelligent InSites' director of business development, UHF is better for reading tags from a distance, such as identifying tagged items within entryways or open areas.

With SPS areas, 2-D bar codes are being applied to surgical equipment using a surgical instrument-tracking solution from Censis Technologies, and are then scanned manually prior to and following surgical procedures. This is done to be sure that equipment is available before an operation and is properly managed afterwards, thereby ensuring the items' cleaning, sterilization and preparation for subsequent surgical procedures.


Mike Maurer 2012-11-05 03:46:30 PM
RTLS Metrics Couple of quick questions related to tracking high value (e.g. larger) medical assets such as infusion pumps: 1) What is the VA requiring with regard to location accuracy utilizing the Wi-Fi Radio Frequency locator technology? 2) What is the average accuracy attained? 3) Why are there no life-safety solutions (e.g. At-Risk Patient and/or Staff Duress)? 4) Are you aware that Pittsburgh VA has an RTLS (non Wi-Fi) System covering over 6 Million Square Feet and using low frequency RF locates tags to within 3-5 meters (life-safety RTLS)? We'd be interested in pushing our life-safety RTLS data to your front-end. Do you have an SDK available?
Mike Maurer 2012-11-27 12:09:47 PM
Technologies for evalution excluded the best from competing I'd like to bring some clarity to the misleading premise that the VA spent 5 years evaluating the 'Proper' technologies: The fact of the matter is that the VA National Committee, at the VA RTLS National Conference, excluded non Wi-Fi technologies from competing. Case in point was the exclusion of Tyco/SecurTRAK (formerly Elpas) RTLS technology which is based upon low frequency 433Mhz for locating tags using RF, IR for sub-bed level tracking, LFRF for portals & floor logic, and ProxHID for HID cards (all on the same infrastructure). More specifically, their RTLS, using SecurTRAK software, has been operating in the VA since 2002 with a reliability of 99.98% up-time, accuracy of 2' using IR, 3-5 meters using RF through walls, millisecond portal control using LFRF (covering 6+ Million SF). To clarify, even though it's accuracy and reliability has been proven "in the VA" for 10+ years, it was excluded from competing because their 'superior' RF locator component does not use Wi-Fi to triangulate(?). Engineering studies the world over have proven beyond the shadow of doubt that lower frequency solutions are much better at triangulating RFID tags through the various materials of construction as found in VA Hospitals and related facilities - and also for tracking outdoors. The main reason provided for limiting the RTLS competing technologies solely to Wi-Fi, "...multiple solutions can be dove-tailed on the same infrastructure..." Tyco's four (4) RTLS technologies has been operating on the same infrastructure since 1996 (as an aside: they also offer Wi-Fi communication capability but advise using hard-wired communications where security is paramount - especially for life-safety). The Wi-Fi triangulation requirement will not provide the accuracy and reliability critical to life-safety solutions (e.g. staff duress, at-risk patient tracking, etc.). Accordingly, life-safety is casually mentioned as a possible 'future' in the National contract and the RTLS Moratorium excludes VA facilities from purchasing RTLS for life-safety. Catch-22: The only future solutions must include Wi-Fi triangulation as a base locator component before 'augmenting' with IR and/or other technologies. What purpose does it serve to limit the RTLS playing field to Wi-Fi when technologies specifically developed for RTLS have existed many years prior? How will the VA reap the benefit of Intelligent Insight's excellent interface if the actual tag locations do not accurately reflect the locations reported by the underlying RTLS? My prior Navy experience connotes: It is far less costly to change the course of a carrier group than to let it collide with an iceberg. As a Veteran owner of a small business that has focused on delivering quality solutions to the government and the VA for 25+ years, it's especially disheartening to have spent much of my life developing the best possible solutions for fellow veterans and then not having the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. Hence, 'Proper' in the above context is meaningless.

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