U.S. Veterans Department Announces RFP for Nationwide RTLS Solution

By Claire Swedberg

In December, the department expects to release a request for proposal for a $550 million project to improve efficiency and gain asset visibility via active and passive RFID and real-time location technology.


Sometime in December, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expects to issue a request for proposal for a $550 million real-time location system (RTLS) RFID project. The plan is to equip all 21 of its Veteran Integrated Service Networks (VISNs), each consisting of various health-care facilities. Altogether, the VISN group consists of 152 medical centers and 1,400 community clinics and non-patient VHA facilities, each equipped with RFID technology. The system may include active RFID tags (predominantly Wi-Fi-based), as well as passive RFID tags, to address four use cases: asset management, temperature tracking, supply chain management and sterilization process flow management. The VA expects a mix of passive and active RFID technologies to be employed for those use cases, though it also intends to accept solutions involving tags that emit ultrasound and infrared signals, or those utilizing ZigBee technology, as an add-on to a Wi-Fi-based system, for greater location granularity, or for use in areas in which Wi-Fi coverage may not be available.

The VA seeks to deploy a single turnkey solution for all 152 medical centers and 1,400 community clinics and non-patient VHA facilities—with a single contractor and its partners delivering the complete solution.

The announcement was made at a VA Industry Day event, held on Nov. 8 at the VA Technology Acquisition Center (TAC), in Austin, Texas, at which the agency indicated that it had a critical need for the technology in support of the VA’s initiative for greater efficiency, particularly in health care. The VA reported that the RTLS solution is expected to support the missions of the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), as well as other VA entities.

The solution at each VISN would need to be enterprise-wide, says Kimberly Brayley, the director of VHA’s RTLS Project Management Office and Healthcare Technology Management Office, noting, “We don’t want multiple niche systems.” Instead, she says, all VISN facilities would have a single software solution on a database that could be shared between the medical centers and clinics. Altogether, the clinics and medical centers currently have 131 separate configurations of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VISTA) electronic medical record system, and part of the VA’s goal is to consolidate all information onto a single, shared system. Consequently, as part of the RTLS contract, VHA hopes to implement a “National Data Repository” system that would help the agency manage RTLS data from each VISN, and to access that information for analytics and business intelligence on a national level.

The rollout is slated to take place during several phases, Brayley says, though a schedule has yet to be established. Typically a VISN comprises five to 11 medical centers, as well as dozens of clinics. The VA estimates that for each VISN, a typical installation would include approximately 27,000 active tags and 107,000 passive tags. By the end of five years, the agency expects to have the RTLS solution installed across all 21 VISNs, with more than 5 million assets tagged and being tracked.

According to Brayley, the VA has been working to develop this nationwide RTLS solution for the past two years. The move is intended to bring VA hospitals up to date with technology that can make every center or clinic more efficient, by tracking its assets, temperatures and inventory, as well as monitoring the sterilization of its surgical instruments. The agency will provide five-year contracts for the solutions, including software, hardware and integration.

Unrelated to the national contract, some VA facilities have already begun deploying RTLS solutions, though none of the implementations are part of the nationwide VA project. For example, By Light Professional IT Services is providing its software and integration, while Ekahau is supplying RTLS sensor tags and software at VA Nebraska—Western Iowa Health Care System. The temperature sensors built into tags will monitor temperatures for sensitive medications, supplies and food items at seven Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) within six Nebraska communities (Bellevue, Grand Island, Holdrege, Lincoln, Norfolk, North Platte and O’Neill), as well as at one clinic in Shenandoah, Iowa. The Ekahau sensors communicate with the health-care system’s centralized server via a Cisco Wireless network.

In addition, logistics and health-care services provider TeamStaff GS will provide a solution to the VA’s Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP), in Charleston, S.C., to test and implement RTLS technology for its mail-order prescription facility that serves veterans. The system is expected to go live at the Charleston site in June 2012, and will be reviewed for one year.

“We will work with our demonstration sites to integrate them in the future” with the nationwide program, Brayley states.