PinnacleHealth Extends Asset Tracking to Community Hospital

By Beth Bacheldor

Already one of the largest active RFID deployments in health care, the system will let the staff at either site locate as many as 10,000 devices, from defibrillators to vacuum cleaners.

Pleased with the return on investment it is getting from the real-time asset tracking it deployed at its flagship 546-bed Harrisburg Hospital, PinnacleHealth is expanding the system to Community Hospital, a 148-bed facility it operates just outside of Harrisburg. When complete, the RFID-based system will let staff at both sites locate as many as 10,000 devices.

In the next few weeks, biomedical engineering staff will be testing and installing active 433 MHz tags on at least 2,000 assets and 200 readers at Community Hospital. The expansion adds to the patient- and asset-tracking RTLS from Radianse already installed at Harrisburg Hospital in the downtown area, used to track about 4,500 assets, such as defibrillators, crash carts and other critical life-support equipment.

In addition to tracking assets, PinnacleHealth has been using the system for more than three years to track about 23,000 patients annually in the surgical units at both Harrisburg and Community hospitals (see PinnacleHealth Pushes Ahead With RFID). The organization also operates three other facilities: Polyclinic, an outpatient clinic with specialty hospital services in downtown Harrisburg; Seidle, a hospital in Mechanicsburg; and Cumberland, a physician office building and outpatient clinic, also in Mechanicsburg.

Radianse's active 433 MHz tags and readers (which Radianse calls receivers) communicate via a proprietary air-interface protocol. The readers are small box-shaped devices that connect to the hospital's local area network and relay the RFID data to a Radianse server. The device can receive a tag's signal from up to 50 or 60 feet away, and can pinpoint the tag's location within an accuracy of up to 3 feet. Radianse's software determines the tag's location based on the strength of the signal picked up by three or more readers.

Earlier this year, Radianse upgraded its system by integrating Wi-Fi networking directly into the RFID readers so they can transmit data via a wireless LAN (see Radianse Adds Wi-Fi to Its RTLS Receivers). Previously, the devices had no built-in Wi-Fi network card and transmitted tag data via a cable connection either to a wired local area network or a separate Wi-Fi network bridge that then communicated wirelessly with a Wi-Fi access point.

The Wi-Fi capability is something PinnacleHealth plans to use, says George Morley, PinnacleHealth's director of biomedical engineering. "These days, you can't just drop ceiling tiles and pull cable in hospitals. The costs have gone up," he explains. One reason for increase in expenses is largely because hospitals have to install plastic barriers that help to contain dust during any construction jobs being done where patients are. The barriers are designed to protect patients from possibly acquiring infections while staying in the hospital.

"We'll be looking closely at where these receivers go [in Community Hospital]," Morley says. "If we're putting receivers in patient areas and other areas where it is hard to pull cable," we'll use the Wi-Fi receivers." He estimates that at least 70 percent of the readers installed will be Wi-Fi-enabled, if during testing they perform well. Morley and his team plan to test a Wi-Fi-enabled receiver in the next few weeks.

Once testing is done, PinnacleHealth will begin implementing the RTLS at Community Hospital by December.

The two hospitals will share the server, so both facilities can see where assets are at either site—a feature Morley says will come in handy. Because the two hospitals share some high-cost specialty equipment, such as devices used in the lab for gastrointestinal endoscopy, hardware gets sometimes misplaced.

The RTLS will help caregivers at both hospitals find all kinds of equipment more easily. When they need to find a specific item, they can access the Radianse software program from any computer at either hospital and search for a type of device, or even enter a device's serial number in order to locate a specific piece of equipment. Because the system tracks items in real time, it prevents the tendency by some to hoard items, Morley notes.

Morley says he and his staff have been surprised at all the different kinds of assets RTLS can be used to track. "When we started [with asset tracking], we thought we'd be using the system mainly for tracking highly mobile items such as wheelchairs and IV pumps," he says. "But as we got into this further, we found a lot of search times were caused by nurses looking for smaller devices like patient walkers, commode chairs, and other things we never expected."

Even vacuum cleaners are being tagged. "Housekeeping came to me and said they had a problem with vacuum cleaners, because they were not being returned to the central station at the end of the day," he explains. "We've put tags on them, and that same day, every vacuum came back the way it was supposed to."

Morley's team also use the system to find devices in order to inspect them or upgrade their software. By next year, Morley hopes to be using a module from Radianse that will automate the manual-based inspection process and associated paper work the hospital group currently uses. Instead of writing down which items have been inspected, Morley and his team will wear active tags equipped with buttons they can push to document where they are at what time as they finish inspections on equipment in a given area or room. The RFID data accumulated during the inspections can then be downloaded into a database used to track equipment inspections.