Australia’s Bendigo Health Improves Efficiency Through RFID

By Dave Friedlos

The regional health-care provider is using AeroScout Wi-Fi tags to track patients and monitor the temperatures of supplies, and will soon implement an RFID-enabled staff-safety solution.

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A real-time location system (RTLS) that employs radio frequency identification technology is helping a health-care provider based in Victoria, Australia, to track patients throughout its facility, as well as monitor the temperatures of medical supplies—and starting next month, it will also improve the safety of the hospital’s staff.

Bendigo Health, the largest regional health-care provider in Victoria, first began rolling out the Wi-Fi-based solution in July 2010, to manage the flow of patients through its surgical wards. Last month, it expanded its use of the system to include temperature monitoring of pharmaceuticals and blood supplies, and in January 2011, it intends to roll out a staff-safety system for doctors and nurses.

The system, which operates on a standard Wi-Fi network and utilizes RFID tags and RTLS software provided by AeroScout, was chosen after Bendigo Health received funding to install Wi-Fi within its surgical theater.

Phil Coppin, Bendigo Health’s information and communication technology (ICT) operations manager, says the health-care provider initially wanted to obtain better real-time data regarding theater and staff utilization in its perioperative suite, which handles up to 10,000 surgical procedures a year.

Bendigo Health’s local ICT partner, Integrating Technology, recommended AeroScout and its Patient Flow solution because of AeroScout’s experience in the health-care sector, particularly in Australia.

Upon arrival in the surgical theater, orthopedic patients are provided with an AeroScout tag that offers information on the patient’s location and movement, thereby enabling staff members to ensure that scheduled procedures start on time, and that patients receive proper care.

“The system follows a patient’s journey through the theater, from the admissions area to the waiting area to the theater complex and the anesthetic bay, and collects key data,” Coppin says. “This allows business decisions to be dovetailed into the complex flow of staff and resources to the perioperative suite. We expect to be able to process patients through surgery more efficiently and use our resources better, and we are already seeing improvements.”

The AeroScout Patient Flow system operates on Bendigo Health’s existing Cisco Unified Wireless Network, which means there is no need to purchase, install and maintain a separate RFID reader network. The wireless network access points throughout the hospital effectively act as RFID interrogators.

According to Lee Lister, AeroScout’s Australia and New Zealand director, this results in a lower total cost of ownership for Bendigo Health.

The system utilizes AeroScout T2 active tags, which are 802.11-compliant and operate at 2.4 GHz. Information is transmitted from the tags across the Wi-Fi network to AeroScout’s MobileView software, which can be accessed by all employees on any computer monitor.

The theater rollout was a proof of concept for Bendigo Health; after working successfully straight out of the box, it paved the way for expansion of the system. The health-care provider then became aware of the temperature-monitoring solution, Coppin says, and immediately began investigating its potential. Refrigerators and freezers are used to store critical medical supplies, such as blood and pharmaceuticals. The temperatures of these supplies must be continuously monitored and recorded at regular intervals, in order to ensure that they remain within acceptable ranges. At present, this function is performed manually by the staff, and is a time-consuming task.

“To comply with regulatory requirements and prevent spoilage of expensive medicines, we were looking for a real-time temperature-monitoring solution,” Coppin states. Ultimately, he says, Bendigo Health opted to install AeroScout’s T5a active temperature-sensing Wi-Fi tags within its refrigerators and freezers.

“The temperature monitoring in our pharmacy was completed in November 2010, and pathology will be completed in January 2011,” Coppin says. “The implementation of the temperature-monitoring solution will save tens of thousands of dollars of spoilage based on previous years’ losses, and our regulatory compliance should be better. It is already clear that several more fridges may also need attention as they rise and fall outside acceptable ranges through the day.”

The staff-safety solution will be rolled out in January 2011 for Bendigo Health’s high-care mental-health site. Staff members will carry AeroScout T2u active tags that use both Wi-Fi (802.11-compliant, 2.4 GHz) and ultrasound (40 kHz) technologies to determine their location. Call buttons on the tags can be triggered to alert colleagues in the event of an emergency or duress situation. The real-time location of the individual requiring assistance is sent along with the alert, and will help Bendigo Health to improve employee safety, as well as enhance patients’ quality of care.

The rollouts’ success could lead to further expansion of the real-time location system in the future, Coppin says, noting, “We are investigating other uses, including tracking high-value critical equipment across the organization, and using tags to monitor a patient’s location and feed this information into the patient administration system.”

AeroScout’s Lister says the success of the rollout at Bendigo Health—the largest regional hospital in Victoria, and one of the largest across Australia—will demonstrate the importance and range of uses of RTLS in health care.