Italian Hospital Uses RFID to Document Patient Location, Treatment

By Claire Swedberg

Thanks to active RFID tags, families and staff members at Treviglio-Caravaggio can determine patients' exact locations. Employees can also use the system to identify delays and document services received.

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Ospedale Treviglio-Caravaggio, located in Treviglio, Italy, has deployed an RFID system to track its patients as they are admitted to the hospital’s emergency wing and then move through the facility, receiving medical services.

Typically, when new patients arrive at the emergency department and are admitted, the hospital follows a series of procedures for diagnosis or therapy. Tracking admitted patients as they pass from one area to another can be difficult because the process is dynamic. For example, if the wait time for X-rays is too long, patients might first go for a blood test, a procedure that normally takes place after an X-ray. If that happens, the hospital has no immediate way of knowing the location, of those patients, or the procedures they have undergone.

With an RFID system provided by Softwork, hospital personnel can immediately locate a patient. Emergency patient management has become easier, says Agata Olivieri, Treviglio-Caravaggio’s emergency director, and patient safety is better secured because workers can easily locate them.

“The aim of this RFID deployment is to know always, and in real time, the location of the patient in the emergency area,” says Softwork’s marketing and communication manager, Paola Visentin.

When new patients are admitted to the hospital, they receive an Identec Solutions active 915 MHz RFID tag to wear around the neck. Each tag contains a unique RFID number linked in the hospital’s database with that patient’s name and pertinent health information.

As patients move from one part of the hospital to another—such as from an examining room into the radiology department—they pass through one of eight RFID reader portals deployed throughout the building. The portal’s interrogator captures the tag’s ID number. If personnel want to know a patient’s location, they can access it via computer in real time. Using its Dove software suite, Italian software company Siced developed the software required to integrate the RFID components with the hospital’s existing Compuware Uniface platform.

Each portal’s RFID antennas are installed above a doorway. By monitoring the sequence in which the antennas pick up a tag’s signal, the Siced software can determine the route a patient has taken, as well as the direction of movement. The hospital, located 40 kilometers from Milan, installed the system in September 2006, at a cost of about €100,000 ($71,400).

“RFID added value in terms of emergency patient management,” Visentin says. Since its deployment, she adds, “the main goal has been achieved: guaranteeing the patient safety in such a critical area.” The system also provides the hospital with a better understanding of patient flow in various departments, which it can then use to anticipate backups in specific areas.

According to Visentin, when the system was initially deployed, “the patients didn’t understand the purpose of this technology.” However, she says, hospital staff and families waiting for patients soon understood the benefit of being able to provide immediate information about the patients and their location.

The hospital provides a computer monitor in the emergency waiting room, on which a patient’s family can key in that person’s ID number and see exactly where he or she is located without having to ask hospital personnel. This, says Olivieri, enables the facility to better support the needs of patients’ families.

“As well as providing the immediate localization of the patient,” says Olivieri, “the other goal achieved, thanks to RFID, is the control of the time taken to cross the clinic area in comparison to the planned time.” The staff employs the system to identify delays as a patient passes from one department to another.

All tag reads showing a particular patient’s movement throughout the hospital are saved to that person’s file, allowing staff to track any services the patient receives during his or her visit. When the patient is discharged, the tag is recovered so it can be reassigned to a newly admitted patient. The hospital uses a pool of 100 tags, continuously reused as patients check out. An average of 55,000 patients are admitted to the emergency department each year.