When RFID merges with Wi-Fi

The combination leads to paperless, all-digital hospital

RFID is a familiar application in business today, to the point that its acronym is part of the vocabulary not only of the IT but also of business management and the general public.

But while it's a wireless technology, it has never really been mobile outside of a very few, limited environments. Its main limitation has been its requirement for specialized, single-purpose readers. As a result, while general-purpose Wi-Fi networks have become increasingly common, RFID has been limited for the most part to one-off applications.

This is now changing with the latest advance in commercially available RFID technology: powered, attachable tags that can be read directly by commercial Wi-Fi APs. This approach, pioneered by Aeroscout Inc., changes RFID from a special-purpose infrastructure to another application on the Wi-Fi network, focusing the cost side of the implementation decision on the cost of tags alone.

This -- combined with Aeroscout's accompanying MobileView software -- opens RFID for use throughout manufacturing plants, warehouses, logistics and any large facility with Wi-Fi networks and a need to track the movement of people or assets. MobileView triangulates signals from tags to multiple APs, to compute their locations. It provides interactive, searchable maps; reporting; event-based alerts and integration with other applications on the network.

One institution where this technology has a prominent place and a major potential impact is the General Hospital in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, Mexico. The 70-bed, all-digital institution provides outpatient surgery, and is the first paperless hospital in Mexico (and one of the first worldwide) and the model for a formal national program to convert Mexico's health infrastructure to paperless operations.

Going all-digital

"We made the commitment to become totally digital in May of last year," says Mauricio Derbez del Pinto, health IT coordinator at the IMSS (Instituto Mexicano Del Seguro Social). "On the 29th of November, we held the launch of the digital hospital," he says. This covered all internal operations, although of necessity the General Hospital still accepts paper medical records from other institutions and clinics. It runs over a Cisco wireless network and combines technologies from Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Philips. Its advanced technologies include an electronic patient record, telemedicine supporting medical diagnosis collaboration, and digital 3-D medical image processing.

Paperless operations provide numerous advantages that go beyond mere efficiencies to improving the level of health care. Medical errors, including doctor errors in prescribing and prescription confusion leading to nurses giving the wrong prescription to a patient, are a major cause of medical errors in hospitals, for example.

When doctors enter prescriptions into electronic medical records rather than paper, the computer can intercept errors. And in an electronic environment, nurses record prescription administration by scanning their ID, the patient's ID and the prescription's ID printed on the container. This both records the exact time that each drug is administered to the patient and allows the computer to confirm that the medicine is being given to the correct patient before it's administered.

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