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Hospital Defines Its Problem, Then Deploys RFID Technology

University Hospital in San Antonio improved its workflow processes and used a real-time location system to automate them.
By Michael Belfiore
Jun 14, 2015

Gene Winfrey knew he had a big problem on his hands in the summer of 2013, when he found an IV pump behind the ceiling tiles of a supply room. IV pumps were in such short supply at University Health System's University Hospital in San Antonio, Texas—where Winfrey serves as the director of information services in the biomedical engineering department—that nurses were stashing them wherever they could to ensure that they'd have one available when a patient needed it.

University Hospital was constructing a new 10-story building, and Winfrey and Jim Magers, the hospital's health-care technology manager, decided it was a good time to install technology that could track smart pumps, including IV pumps, and improve availability. "We wanted to eliminate hoarding of equipment," Winfrey says, "and get nurses out of the pump-management business."

University Hospital deployed a passive RFID-based real-time locating system to track and manage all of its smart medical pumps.
In March 2014, when the 420-bed Sky Tower opened, the facility included a passive RFID-based real-time locating system (RTLS) from Mainspring Healthcare Solutions, which it uses to track and manage all of the smart medical pumps used at the hospital. As a result, pump utilization rates jumped from less than 45 percent in the old facility to more than 70 percent. Just as important, Winfrey says, University Hospital "won back the trust of nurses."

Improving Workflow Processes
To implement the project, Winfrey and Magers created a cross-functional team that included the chief nurse, the VP of the supply-chain department, the director of materials management, the hospital's CIO, CFO and COO, and a representative from the biomedical engineering department. A key issue the team knew it had to address upfront was how to change its workflow.

In 2009, Winfrey says, UHS had deployed an active RTLS to track pumps, but it wasn't solving the problem because the hospital didn't put procedures in place to use it. "We threw technology at it," he says, "but we didn't support it with any appropriate workflow." The hospital learned the hard way, he adds, that keeping track of devices is as much a procedural problem as a technological one. In addition, he says, the wireless network at the old facility—which was optimized for data and voice communications—wasn't up to the task of pinpointing active RFID tags. (Winfrey says he and his team are working with the original solution provider to use the active RTLS to track some equipment in the new tower.)

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