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Irish Hospital Tracks Precious Samples

St. James's Hospital is identifying the locations and movements of biopsy tissues extracted from surgical patients, thereby ensuring that no samples end up missing, and is also using RFID to track artwork.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 12, 2017

This year, St. James's Hospital, in Dublin, Ireland, has begun using GS1 EPC RFID technology to track the samples taken from surgical patients for lab testing, known as precious samples. The system also monitors the locations of the staff members who transport those samples, as well as valuable art donated to the hospital. The installation is the first phase of a facility-wide, permanent deployment of RFID throughout its campus to identify where samples, assets, patients and personnel are located, and to improve patient care and efficiency based on that data.

The RFID solution was provided by RFIDMedical, a division of Aerospace Software Developments (ASD), which installed the RFID reader infrastructure, and provided RFID tags and its own RFIDMedical software that resides on the hospital's servers. GS1 Ireland provided unique identification keys and advisory services to ensure an open standard deployment.

Vincent Callan
St. James's is a publically funded hospital with a long history. In 1727, a foundling hospital was opened on the current site and historical figures such as Jonathan Swift, as well as the original Arthur Guinness, served on the board of governors. The hospital was closed in the early years of the 19th century, after which the buildings were used as a workhouse for the poor, known as the South Dublin Union. It was occupied by rebel forces during the Easter Rising of 1916.

At present, the hospital includes centuries-old buildings, as well as some new construction that makes up a 60-acre medical campus with 1,085 beds and more than 4,500 employees. It also includes the Mercers Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA), Trinity College Medical School, Irish Blood Transfusion Services and the National Radiation and Oncology Centre, with construction of a new National Children's Hospital (NCH) soon to begin. The facility's old buildings feature thick concrete walls, while the modern buildings have a very different footprint and infrastructure. Therefore, RFID technology deployment requirements differ from one part of the campus to another. Despite these limitations, the hospital sought a long-term holistic RFID solution that would work across its entire campus, for the management of both assets and individuals.

St. James's Hospital already had experience with RFID technology, says Vincent Callan, the facility's director of facilities management, as it initially used an active real-time location system in 2012 to monitor the whereabouts of "vulnerable patients." However, he notes, that system required a separate dedicated Wi-Fi network that would not interfere with the existing Wi-Fi network due to Hospital ICT Security protocols and "three-points of origin" triangulation of Wi-Fi access points. Location data tended to be unreliable because the Wi-Fi transmission sometimes strayed through floors or walls, leading to false alerts. In addition, the use of active RTLS technology required the regular replacement of tag or wristband batteries, which was an unwarranted disruption for asset and patient tags.

The hospital had also tested the use of passive RFID technology using proprietary technology for medical device implants in the surgical theater in 2011. However, this proved to be a costly solution and was not scalable to other products or items in the theater.

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