RFID Helps York Improve Patient Safety, Satisfaction

By Claire Swedberg

A Wi-Fi-based system enables the 580-bed Pennsylvania hospital to better manage its assets, allowing its staff to focus more on patients than on equipment.

Wellspan Health's York Hospital located in York, Pa., is employing a Wi-Fi-based real-time location system (RTLS) provided by AeroScout to better manage assets at its 580-bed facility. The system is the result of a cooperative effort between the hospital's biomedical engineering, emergency and transportation departments, which all state they are benefiting from knowing where their critical medical equipment is located.

The 1.2-million-square-foot hospital, with nine floors and 11 buildings, treats 80,000 patients each year, 28 percent of whom are admitted. The facility's emergency department recently upgraded to a Level 1 trauma center—one of two such centers in south-central Pennsylvania.

To develop the system, AeroScout worked closely with the biomedical, emergency and transportation departments, each of which had its own challenges. The emergency department wanted quick access to equipment for treating critically ill or injured patients. Depending on an individual's condition and treatment needs, such equipment might include infusion, feeding, patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) or syringe pumps, as well as circulatory assist devices, wheelchairs or gurneys. Requests for equipment go directly to the biomedical engineering department, which is responsible for providing these items, in addition to cleaning and repairing them. This placed a time-consuming burden on the biomedical department, says Chad Noll, Wellspan's manager of biomedical engineering.

The department commonly received dozens of calls each day for specific pieces of equipment. What's more, items could sometimes be retrieved only by sending an employee to walk the hallways in search of what was needed. The transportation department, which is responsible for moving patients from one department to another, had similar problems tracking wheelchairs and gurneys, which its staff required to move patients around throughout the day.

In 2008, the departments combined efforts, with biomedical at the lead, to seek a solution. Ultimately, they worked with AeroScout to develop a system that employed the hospital's existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to receive signals from the RFID tags. In July 2009, the hospital began installing extra Wi-Fi access points, as well as tagging gurneys, infusion pumps, feeding pumps, portable physiological monitors and circulatory assistance pumps. The system went live in August.

Each tag transmits its unique ID number, which is linked to data regarding the item to which is attached. That information is stored in AeroScout's MobileView software, running on one of the hospital's computer servers. In addition, MobileView enables the facility to locate other Wi-Fi-enabled items, such as laptops and IP phones. If the hospital chooses to do so, it can assign details related to those items, and include them in the tracking system.

At the end of 2008, Wellspan installed some of AeroScout's temperature-monitoring tags in its refrigerators and freezers, according to Joel Cook, AeroScout's health-care solutions marketing director. The hospital plans to install sensor tags in additional refrigerators in the future, he says.

"We are required to take daily refrigerator temperatures for medication refrigerators," Noll states. "This is a manual process, and the data sheets are kept on each floor presently. This solution will provide an electronic data-collection method, along with the fact that the data is available through the system."

The hospital currently has 1,100 items tagged, and is also tracking approximately 50 non-tagged Wi-Fi devices, such as computers on wheels and IP phones.

The system has allowed the hospital to recover some expensive items, Noll says, such as new beds and telemetry packs lost within the facility. Without the system, he says, these items might have been replaced by the biomedical department, thereby costing the hospital tens of thousands of dollars. But the greatest benefit thus far, he notes, is the reduction of time staff members spend trying to locate items. "This is not a cost savings," he says, "since we would be paying staff anyway. It translates more to patient safety and satisfaction, by allowing our staff to focus on patient needs rather than equipment needs."