East Midlands Ambulance Service Uses RFID to Track Equipment Quickly

The British emergency services provider has attached EPC Gen 2 UHF passive RFID tags to critical gear, and can now more easily verify what is onboard each vehicle, and when it was last serviced.
Published: July 2, 2014

The management of critical equipment aboard ambulances involves not only ensuring that each item intended to treat a patient is onboard when needed, but also providing scheduled maintenance and servicing to guarantee that if a piece of equipment is required during an emergency, it will function as expected. East Midlands Ambulance Service (EMAS) NHS Trust is tracking onboard equipment within its ambulances via an RFID solution known as CheckedOK Medical. The solution, provided by CoreRFID, consists of EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags applied to medical equipment (such as resuscitators, ventilators and monitoring devices), as well as handheld readers to capture the ID numbers encoded to those tags, and software residing on CoreRFID’s hosted server that stores data indicating which items are in which vehicle and when they were serviced.

EMAS, which operates its emergency vehicles in Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Lincolnshire counties, employs 2,700 staff members and operates 450 vehicles. Each vehicle should be stocked with a specific set of tools and equipment for use in treating patients until they can be transported to a hospital. Prior to deploying the CheckedOK system to manage the thousands of assets that need to be stocked on those vehicles, EMAS maintained a file on its database listing each item. Personnel could search the database to identify which pieces of equipment should be on which vehicle, and learn about their history, as long as that data had been properly entered and updated, says Richard Needham, East Midlands Ambulance’s assistant head of fleet. Without the use of RFID, however, the company could not always ensure that every ambulance had the equipment it needed, even if the software indicated those items were onboard.

East Midlands Ambulance Service has attached Xerafy’s Titanium Metal Skin RFID labels to its equipment. The Titanium Metal Skin, made with Impinj’s Monza 5 chip, measures 1.77 inches by 0.22 inch by 0.03 inch.

The company began working with CoreRFID last year to create a solution, says Adam Robinson, CoreRFID’s sales manager. CoreRFID had originally developed CheckedOK in 2011 for the construction, engineering and facilities management industries, and modified the system for EMAS, launching CheckedOK Medical in April 2013. CheckedOK Medical includes two types of passive EPC Gen 2 UHF tags, to accommodate the equipment’s different materials and form factors, as well as handheld readers. CoreRFID’s software manages the collected read data on its own hosted server.

According to Needham, East Midlands applied Confidex‘s Carrier Micro and Xerafy‘s Titanium Metal Skin RFID labels to such equipment as resuscitators, defibrillators and suction units, for a total of approximately 3,000 to 4,000 items.

Every month, all equipment is removed from each ambulance and cleaned, then is checked against the inventory listed in the database and returned to the same vehicle. If maintenance is due for a particular asset, that item could be replaced, or it could be serviced before being returned to the ambulance. Multiple vehicles are often emptied side by side, which could result in equipment being moved into the wrong ambulance.

With the CheckedOK system in place, East Midlands Ambulance’s staff use RFID to identify what is in each ambulance, updating the status of every item when needed. First, a user carrying an ATiD AB700 handheld reader enters the rear of a vehicle and inputs the vehicle’s ID in the reader software, which compares the list of interrogated tag IDs against the list of goods that should be in the vehicle. Any discrepancy is displayed on the handheld’s screen. Workers then have the option of searching for a missing piece of equipment or move that item to its rightful location.

If any asset is due for servicing or repair, that detail is also displayed on the handheld’s screen. Staff members can then either provide the required service or move the equipment to a servicing area, updating data on the system software in either scenario. After all of the equipment has been cleaned, the vehicle is reloaded and a final read indicates whether all items are present and properly serviced.

All collected RFID data is forwarded via a Wi-Fi connection to CoreRFID’s hosted server, where the CheckedOK software stores and displays that information for authorized EMAS management and its supporting staff in the office.

By viewing the software, East Midlands can be sure not only that nothing is missing on any ambulance, but also that any equipment that might be needed during a particular emergency call will be in good operational order.

“It’s working well at the moment,” Needham reports. “It gives us what we asked for.” The company has requested some tweaking of the software to provide greater functionality, he adds, and its latest hope is to begin viewing daily reports about the equipment and which pieces may require service.

Since being taken live about nine months ago, the system has enabled the firm to be sure it can provide the necessary services in the event of an emergency, while also reducing labor hours previously required to identify each item and check it against the database. While Needham says it is too early to measure the total benefits, he notes that it has already enabled missing items to be located.