RFID Fills Infection-Prevention Role at Dental Practice

By Claire Swedberg

Westover and Associates is using the technology to track the temperatures of employees and ensure that any with elevated temperatures are identified before starting a shift, thereby protecting patients and personnel.

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When patients visit one of Westover and Associates‘ four dental offices, located in Colorado, Georgia and Mississippi, many worry about being exposed to communicable diseases. Some are undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, for instance, and any potential infection could have a major impact on their health. For that reason, the practice has been seeking ways in which technology could help ensure that patients and staff members are safe from the risk of infection.

The firm has found a solution in the form of an RFID-based system provided by Medical Grade Innovations Science & Technology (MGI). The system, known as WellFocused, includes the WelloStation—an RFID-enabled kiosk or desktop monitor where workers can have their temperature measured before getting to work, and where patients can do the same before approaching the reception desk. In addition, WellFocused includes medical scrubs with RFID tags sewn into specialized anti-microbial fabric, to link temperature data with the individuals wearing those garments.

Dr. Brock Westover demonstrates the WelloStation. When he aligns his eyes with the two circles displayed on the screen, the WelloStation takes a photo and measures his temperature by means of an infrared sensor.

With data about each employee and his or her temperature, the office can better identify anyone who may be sick, and contact that individual before he or she starts mingling with personnel and patients at the office, as well as collect historical data to determine who becomes sick, when this occurs and how often, for the purpose of better management. Westover and Associates installed the system at its office in Jackson, Miss., earlier this year, and is now in the process of deploying it in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo.

Dentist Brock Westover, the owner of Westover Associates, says he began looking into technology solutions that could help detect when someone with an infection might be in the office, based on that person’s increased internal body temperature. He notes that both patients and staff members need to be protected from infection, and that infections can spread more easily in a dental office than in most places because work is being done in the mouth.

MGI’s Medical Grade Scrub line of anti-microbial garments includes dental assistant uniforms, says Murray Cohen, MGI’s president of science and technology, and each top features a Fujitsu A522 flexible ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID garment tag sewn into it. When a worker is issued a uniform, that person’s name and other identifying information, along with the unique ID number encoded on that tag, are stored in the WellFocused software residing on Westover and Associates’ database. The employee can then be photographed via the WelloStation’s built-in camera, and the system stores that image along with the other personal data. In that way, office management can view the picture while the tag is being read at the WelloStation as that individual enters the office, and thereby know if there is a discrepancy between the person wearing that uniform and the one to whom it was assigned.

In addition to having a camera and a temperature sensor, each WelloStation comes with an Impinj Speedway Revolution RFID reader with a Laird reader antenna. The station also has its own software to link temperature and RFID data, and then forward that information to the WelloCloud software hosted on an MGI server, via a wired Internet connection.

As patients and staff members enter the office, they proceed to the WelloStation, where a sign directs them to position themselves about a foot away from the station and align their eyes with two circles on the device’s display screen. The WelloStation snaps a photograph of each new arrival and measures body temperature by means of a sensor that measures infrared radiation being emitted from the vicinity of a person’s eyes. That data is stored in the WelloCloud, where authorized Westover personnel can access it.

In the case of an employee, the built-in RFID reader captures the ID number on the tag sewn into her uniform’s top. That ID, along with the temperature reading and a picture taken of the individual’s face, are sent to the WelloCloud software. The office manager can log into the software to view the employee’s name and image already on file, as well as the new picture and temperature reading taken by the WelloStation. The photographs help confirm which individuals checked in to work for each shift, and can also be compared against the photos taken when the garments were first issued, in order to confirm that employees are wearing their assigned uniforms. If an employee is found to have a fever, that person can either be assigned work in a specific area where no contact with other staff members or patients would take place, or be sent home for the day.

MGI’s Murray Cohen

Since patients do not wear an RFID tag, the system simply identifies whether or not each patient has an elevated temperature. If a fever is detected, an alert could be issued to authorized personnel, who can intercept that patient at the desk before he or she makes contact with other workers or patients, and reschedule the appointment. Another benefit of the WelloStation system is that it creates a photographic record of the individual receiving treatment that day, which can help prevent any insurance fraud.

The solution provides some comfort to both employees and patients, Westover says, since they now know that they are less likely to catch any communicable diseases. “We all really worry about infections,” he says—including, most recently, Ebola. Communicable diseases can be transmitted by the use of moving equipment in the mouth that releases droplets of saliva into the air. “Everyone in the dental practice understands the risk,” Westover says, adding that his office has had cases in which staff members have been concerned about a particular patient who could have a communicable disease, and have said, “I’m afraid to go into that room.” With the WellFocused technology, he explains, that becomes less of a concern.

The WellFocused solution could also be used within other health-care environments, as well as at factories and schools, Cohen says. And the RFID-based data could enable the collection and analysis of information, he adds, such as what demographic of people are becoming sick (a particular age group, for instance), how frequently this occurs, the communities in which they live or other details that could help in the prevention or control of disease transmission. Such applications, however, are still in the concept phase.