Wake Forest Baptist Builds Its Own RFID Solution for Radiology Vest Inspection

By Claire Swedberg

The medical center, which plans to market the technology commercially, now uses passive UHF tags to track more than 850 vests, thereby making its inspection process more efficient.

Locating X-ray protection vests for inspections and maintenance was an arduous task at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center before the facility implemented a solution consisting of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags, a handheld reader and software to manage each vest's location and inspection data. The system, which can read a tag sewn into a radiology vest at a distance of up to 20 feet, was developed by the hospital's management team to improve efficiency related to monitoring the vests' inspection status and location.

The medical center, located in Winston-Salem, N.C., had already been employing radio frequency identification for a variety of purposes, says Ronald Noel, Wake Forest Baptist's receiving manager and the developer of multiple RFID systems at the institution. For example, he explains, it first began testing various real-time location systems (RTLS) to track assets in 2005. It then installed the technology in 2009 to track vaccines stored within refrigerators and freezers, as well as to locate assets throughout its 4.1-million-square-foot facility (see Wake Forest Med Center Launches Vaccine-Tracking RTLS).

Wake Forest Baptist's Stuart Grogan

The radiology vest solution, known as Pulse Finder RFID Enhanced, was conceived by Stuart Grogan, Wake Forest Baptist's radiology equipment manager, who says he was tired of the time-consuming process of locating and maintaining the hospital's more than 850 vests.

The Joint Commission requires that radiology vests be inspected at least once annually. To meet this directive, members of the radiology staff must identify which vests are due for inspection, by looking through their histories on a spreadsheet and then setting out to locate each one. This requires walking through as many as 30 or 40 storage locations—some of which are in different buildings—since the vests do not always remain at one location. Personnel then inspect every vest and record what has been done on a spreadsheet.

The Pulse Finder RFID Enhanced solution makes the process considerably more efficient, the medical center reports. Software created by ScanOnline, an automatic-identification solutions provider in Albemarle, N.C., is loaded onto a Motorola MC3190-Z handheld reader. The device has a Wi-Fi connection to a laptop situated on a cart that accompanies the inspector making the rounds. Pulse Finder software running on the laptop stores all data regarding the vests, as a standalone system.

Each vest has a passive UHF Gen 2 RFID tag either sewn into it by the vest's manufacturer, Pulse Medical Inc, of Blue Ridge, Ga., or retrofitted by the medical center. An inspector carries the handheld past the racks of vests in each storage area, and the reader typically interrogates the tags at a distance of up to 20 feet. As the ID numbers are received, the Pulse Finder software accesses each vest's maintenance records, highlighting any vest due for inspection.

Staff members move a vest requiring inspection into a room dedicated for that process, and visually examine it. They answer a series of questions about that condition in the handheld's software, filling in any necessary details in the "comments" option. That data is then forwarded via the Wi-Fi connection back to the laptop, which updates the vest's information.

Since its installation in January 2013, Noel says, the system has saved the department considerable time previously spent locating and inspecting vests. However, he notes, it has not been possible so far to measure the exact savings achieved, since early inspections required the attachment of tags to untagged vests as well. Grogan predicts that the solution will save the medical center approximately $15,000 over the next five years, primarily in labor costs. More importantly, he adds, it will provide an accurate digital record of each vest that can then be presented to The Joint Commission's inspectors.

Pulse Medical Inc., in partnership with Wake Forest Innovations—Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center's commercialization enterprise—is currently marketing the solution to other health-care providers. "I think it's going to be a very worthwhile solution for hospitals," says Gordy Boyce, Pulse Medical's marketing VP. The technology enhances the vests' value, which, he says, is Pulse Medical's greatest gain.

According to Noel, Wake Forest Innovations has filed for a patent for the solution. The technology can be used for other assets in addition to radiology vests, he says, such as clinical equipment requiring frequent calibration.