Passive NFC System Studied for COVID-19 Hospital Security

By Claire Swedberg

The Quebec Institute for Logistical Innovation has submitted a solution using Connect&GO tags and software to the Department of Health Canada for preventing infections as patients are tested and treated at active hospitals for COVID-19.

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RFID company Connect&GO has been invited to architect a solution for the Quebec Institute for Logistical Innovation (IILQ) to manage the treatment of patients who have contracted COVID-19 and ensure they don’t infect others. The solution, if approved by the Department of Health Canada, will be deployed at area hospitals. The ministry is now investigating which facilities have the highest priority, but one that is expected to be among them is Montreal’s Notre-Dame Hospital, which aims to offer a “hospital within a hospital” for COVID-19 patients.

Connect&GO, a 10-year-old Montreal company, provides wearable technology in the form of passive NFC RFID wristbands, as well as management software and apps, for use at temporary and permanent events around the world. The solution is being used for guest experiences. IILQ, a college center for technology and logistics research, has a history with Connect&GO’s co-founder, Anthony Palermo, who has sat on IILQ’s board. Before founding Connect&GO, Palermo led RFID Academia, which developed RFID solutions for healthcare and other industries.

Connect&GO’s deployments have traditionally centered around the leisure, sports and entertainment sectors, such as waterparks, amusement parks and zoos. The company offers wristbands for those who visit such sites, along with software to manage the collected read data, in order to provide access, payments and experiential options. Last month, IILQ proposed a technology-based solution for hospitals treating patients with COVID-19, to help ensure there is no transmission of the virus to other patients or health-care providers. The technology development is being overseen by the University-integrated Centre for Health and Social Services (CIUSSS Centre-Sud).

The solution that Connect&GO and IILQ have developed is intended to document the movements of individuals and equipment within isolated units in which COVID-19-positive patients are treated. By ensuring those patients and the equipment used to treat them never come into contact with other patients, IILQ hopes the system will help to prevent potential infections. The technology will also be tested for its ability to reduce the overuse of gowns and masks, by bringing greater visibility into how and where those items are used, washed or disposed of.

IILC’s mission is to develop new ways in which to improve the management of supply chains. In late March 2020, the organization began working with Connect&GO, and it will now offer this potential solution, which it says will be easy to install. Connect&GO provides NFC technology for music festivals and other events, and Palermo says this could also be applied in healthcare, to enable patients to be tracked via a wristband. Assets and equipment used on those patients could be tracked as well. Since the technology was designed to be deployed at festivals or other temporary, high-traffic events, he says, it can be installed quickly and seamlessly. “We can deploy the technology very quickly,” he states.

According to Palermo, the passive NFC-based solution guarantees that the technology will not interfere with broadband already in use by a hospital. In that way, he explains, any confusion related to whether and how a system would interfere with other connectivity is eliminated, which could make deployments faster. The technology could be used for those being tested or retested for COVID-19, as well as for those being checked into a hospital.

The deployment could look something like this: When an individual, such as someone being admitted into a hospital, tests positive, his or her status would be registered in the hospital’s or Connect&GO’s software platform, and that person would then be given an NFC-enabled wristband. The unique ID number encoded on that band would be linked to that particular patient. The hospital would assign a room for that individual, with the room number linked to him or her in the software. Ventilators and other equipment would have NFC tags attached to them, with an ID linked to each item’s serial number and description.

As the patient receives treatment, a health-care provider could use the NFC-enabled phone or tablet to read his or her wristband and thereby capture the patient’s tag ID, linked to that person’s data. The employee would next read the tag on the equipment, thereby linking that item with that particular patient. A physician could then visit the patient and input additional data. As health-care providers visit, they can read the wristband ID and view all of the data collected in the software regarding what treatments were provided, who provided them and when this occurred. That data would be accessible to others as patient care continued. For instance, a doctor could visit a patient, read his or her wristband, view what care has already been provided, along with historical health-care data, and add notes to the file.

The technology could also be used for waste management, Palermo says. If NFC tags were applied to linens or other washable items, the system could confirm that those linens were placed in a COVID-19-positive bag. That means the hospital could ensure that the items met sanitization requirements for coronavirus patients. In addition, the technology could help to prevent people from entering a given zone, based on scans of his or her badge or wristband.

While the Department of Health Canada plans deployments, Palermo says, “Connect&GO’s software and NFC tags are 100 percent ready to go,” only requiring configuration to set up zones and identify assets. “It just happens to lend itself so easily to the proposal.” He predicts a solution could then be taken live within a matter of minutes, stating, “I’m quite honored and proud to be able to help any way we can. It’s such a worldwide crisis right now. If I can help the people locally here, I will be very happy.” According to Palermo, the technology could be used far beyond the Quebec area.