Michigan’s Memorial Healthcare Adopts Ekahau Wi-Fi Tags

By Claire Swedberg

The hospital is using the tags to enable personnel to request help or send an alert while working in the behavioral health unit, as well as track the temperatures of medicines and other perishables within its pharmacy.

Michigan hospital Memorial Healthcare has installed a real-time location system (RTLS) employing Wi-Fi active radio frequency identification tags supplied by Ekahau, to enhance the safety of staff members and track temperatures within its pharmacy's department coolers. In addition, the medical facility plans to extend the system's use for tracking assets, as well as for identifying instances when patients are at risk for wandering.

Memorial Healthcare installed the system within its behavioral health unit (where psychiatric patients are treated) to replace an outdated proprietary RFID system for monitoring staff safety. The facility found that the Ekahau solution could be utilized for other applications as well, beginning with tracking temperatures, in order to reduce the amount of time that staff members spend monitoring and recording the temperatures of medication refrigerators, and to collect more accurate electronic data that could be used to fulfill the Joint Commission's reporting requirements.

Memorial Healthcare's Dan Jacobs

According to Dan Jacobs, Memorial Healthcare's senior network analyst, the hospital's existing RFID system for transmitting alerts from workers in need of help was becoming outdated by 2010, and the technology provider was no longer offering its RFID products. The company assembled a selection committee to study its requirements for a new alerting system, and the committee determined that one of the most important prerequisites was an RTLS solution that would use the hospital's existing Cisco Wi-Fi network, making it relatively easy and inexpensive to continue scaling with more functions throughout the medical center as necessary. After the selection committee visited other facilities using the Ekahau system, Memorial Healthcare selected the firm to provide RTLS Wi-Fi-based staff badges, three infrared beacons (to provide greater location granularity within two examining rooms and a breezeway entrance to the remainder of the hospital), and Ekahau's Vision software (to manage location data based on badge transmissions).

Without the use of infrared beacons, says Mark Norris, Ekahau's president and CEO, the technology can typically determine a badge's location within 3 to 5 meters (9.8 to 16.4 feet). If greater granularity is required, the firm recommends utilizing the IR beacons.

The hospital opted to install Ekahau tags with temperature sensors within five refrigerators and a single freezer used for storing chemotherapy medication, blood, tissues and other medicines. The system was taken live with both functions during the fourth quarter of 2012.

For the security solution, staff members—including security guards, caseworkers, health-care providers and housekeepers—obtain an Ekahau B4 badge, to be worn around the neck on a lanyard, upon arriving each day at the hospital's 10,000-square-foot behavioral health unit. There are approximately 21 badges in use on any given day.

The badge comes with a button that can be pressed in the event that another staff member is needed to help with a particular task, as well as another switch that is triggered by pulling down on the badge, thereby signaling an emergency, such as a patient requiring immediate restraint. When a badge is pulled or its button pressed, says Frank Fear, Memorial Heathcare's VP of information systems, the badge's tag transmits a signal to Wi-Fi access points within the vicinity, which then forward that information to the Ekahau Vision software residing on the hospital's back-end system. The software determines the event's location, Fear explains, and then sends a text message, including that location data, to all nearby employees appropriate for responding to a call for assistance or an emergency alert. Employees can view the text message on their badge's LED screen, and then report to the area in question, such as a specific section of the ward where the help is required.

The hospital needed additional location granularity within two examining rooms with closed doors, and in a breezeway connected to the rest of the hospital. In each of these three areas, a battery-powered Ekahau IR beacon transmits its unique identifier to an approaching person's badge, which reads that beacon ID and transmits that data, along with its own ID, to the Wi-Fi access points.

If a tagged individual enters the breezeway, the software assumes that he or she is leaving the department and issues an alert to that user's badge, producing an audible beep. The worker can then read the text message reminding him or her to return the badge prior to leaving the department if finished working at that location for the day. In some cases, a staff member may leave intending to return, and may wish to continue receiving text messages. For example, personnel who want to visit the cafeteria or a hospital laboratory could bring their badges with them to those locations. Because the system uses the hospital's existing Cisco Wi-Fi network, a badge wearer could still receive a message in the cafeteria, or in any other part of the hospital, if someone requested help in the behavioral health unit.

In the case of temperature monitoring, Fear says, the hospital had utilized a manual system for tracking temperatures until the Ekahau solution was installed last year. With the automated system, Norris explains, each Wi-Fi-based TS Temperature Sensor Tag transmits temperature data to Wi-Fi access points at regular intervals, and the Ekahau Vision software interprets and stores that data. If a temperature is either too warm or too cold, as determined in the software, the software can send a text message or e-mail alert to staff members responsible for the units. The alert would be viewable in the form of a text message on the B4 badge. What's more, data can be sent to management via e-mail.

The system is saving the staff time previously spent documenting temperatures several times each day with a clipboard, Fear says, though he does not know exactly how much. The solution has also helped to identify a refrigerator that tended to fluctuate in temperature, he adds, leading the hospital to better determine when the unit might need to be replaced, as well as ensure that temperatures did not reach beyond an acceptable threshold and thus ruin the products stored within. According to Fear, the system also provides a temperature record that can be provided to the Joint Commission in order to demonstrate compliance.

Additionally, Norris says, the Ekahau software enables the hospital to perform forensic analysis. For example, if management wishes to determine how quickly an alert was responded to, or the number of people who responded, that information is stored in the software and can be displayed on graphs or charts. "That's the business-intelligence piece," he states, "and we're very proud of it."

This year, Fear says, the hospital intends to expand the temperature-tracking solution to include all of its coolers, which could quadruple the number of machines being monitored. In addition, the facility intends to begin providing Ekahau RFID T301W wristbands to patients of its long-term-care ward. Many of those patients suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's, and the system is designed to detect when an individual may be wandering beyond the area where he or she should be. Farther in the future, Fear reports, Memorial Healthcare hopes to use the tags to track assets, though at present, there is no schedule planned for that implementation.