When RFID merges with Wi-Fi

The combination leads to paperless, all-digital hospital

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Finding doctors, ambulatory patients and mobile medical devices is another set of hospital issues, and the General Hospital included Aeroscout's RFID system in its wireless architecture to solve them. Unlike nurses, who are usually associated with a specific nursing station, doctors wander through a hospital, visiting patients, consulting with colleagues and spending part of their day in their private clinics or offices. Finding a doctor to confirm a prescription or discuss a change in a patient's symptoms can become a lengthy search.

Similarly, today most patient-attached medical monitors, infusion pumps and other devices are wireless and highly mobile. This provides great advantages in flexibility, allowing medical staff to equip every bed with the exact set of medical devices the patient occupying it needs. The trade-off is that devices wander. A device may be "borrowed" from one floor to another. A malfunctioning device may be shoved into a corner or closet and forgotten by a nurse or med tech intent on the patient, instead of being returned for repair. The result is that too often nurses spend large amounts of time searching through the hospital for the device a patient requires.

Tracking wandering patients

And finally patients, themselves, wander. A nurse making the rounds of patients and administering prescriptions may find an empty bed. The patient may be down the hall in the solarium or on the ground floor in the cafeteria, or, in the case of elderly, high-risk patients, may have wandered off absentmindedly to become lost and confused somewhere in the institution's corridors. The result is another search, taking more of the nurse's valuable time and distracting her from patient care.

Aeroscout's technology changes all that. Tags are attached to medical devices, to the clothing of ambulatory, at-risk patients and to the key rings of doctors, nurses, med techs and other hospital personnel. Now finding a person or device takes a few seconds at the nearest networked computer, physical searches are all but eliminated, and medical personnel can devote their attention to patient care without this source of major distraction.

And if a confused elderly patient wanders too far, MobileView can send an alarm to a nurse's pager, ensuring the patient's safe return. The software can also identify mobile medical equipment that has been left standing unused for a long period and may be in need of repair.

When the hospital was being planned, Derbez says, the planning committee searched for models -- institutions that had successfully moved to paperless operations. "We found a group of applications that were successfully working in ... a hospital in Birmingham [Ala.]." The Aeroscout application was among them. The committee already was discussing including an RFID solution, and Aeroscout's inclusion in the Birmingham installation, which became a model for the committee's design, made its inclusion in the General Hospital's infrastructure an easy decision.

"We have seen there are many benefits of going digital, completely digital," Derbez says. "What we are doing is keeping track of some process indicators -- key process indicators -- for the hospital to prove that this is really a cost/benefit, so we can export this kind of model to other hospitals. As a matter of fact we are beginning to plan the second hospital based on this model."

Bert Latamore is a journalist with 10 years' experience in daily newspapers and 25 in the computer industry. He has written for several computer industry and consumer publications. He lives in Linden, Va., with his wife, two parrots and a cat.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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