Tagging along to greater efficiency

November 2007 Asset Management, EAS, RFID, Healthcare (Industry)

In any environment the issues of safety, productivity and efficiency are key components in achieving success. The healthcare environment is no exception.

The safety and security of personnel and other assets have a direct influence on efficiency and productivity and ultimately determine whether the objectives of any given organisation are met.

Often the very nature of the healthcare industry makes it very difficult to track the efficient deployment of assets and resources, especially in the vast network of public healthcare.

The advancement of technology now offers greater means of addressing these issues. The use of radio frequency identification technology (RFID) allows the ability to track personnel, patients and equipment in realtime. The technology lends itself to use in various applications.

What is RFID?

Radio frequency identification technology is used to automatically identify objects or people using RFID tags. A RFID tag is a small electronic device that can be attached to or incorporated into a product. RFID tags include a chip that stores an ID and an antenna that enables the chip to transmit the stored ID to a reader. RFID readers are devices that can receive the information transmitted by the tags.

Typically RFID tags are classified into two categories:

Passive RFID tags do not have a power source. When the tag comes within range of the reader, the tag is powered by the reader's RF field and transmits its ID to the reader.

Active RFID tags have batteries and constantly transmit their ID at preprogrammed intervals. This increases the read range of active tags. Typically active tags can also hold more data and be reprogrammed for different uses.

Real world example: theatre time monitoring

A need has been identified to electronically determine the time a patient spends in an operating theatre without any human intervention in the time keeping process.

Traditionally theatre time is manually recorded using either a manual clock card or by scanning a barcode label, etc. All these methods are largely reliant on the time that the theatre personnel perform the scanning action. This leads to discrepancies in theatre time recording that has various financial implications for the hospital.

Active RFID technology lends itself perfectly to solving this problem. By installing an active RFID reader in every theatre and attaching an active RFID tag to the patient or theatre bed it is possible to detect the moment a patient enters the operating theatre. As the tag is transmitting continuously the system will also be able to determine that time the patient left the theatre.

The system software validates the theatre transactions and determines the exact billable time the patient spent in the theatre. The theatre time data can be made available in a predetermined format that allows for integration with the hospital billing system. The system also accepts input from the hospital system to allow for validation of patient allocations to the respective theatres.

This solution, developed by Holbert System Solutions, has been successfully implemented in six hospitals in South Africa during an extensive pilot project. Due to the success of the pilot project this solution will be implemented throughout the theatre complexes of this hospital group.

The solution offers the following advantages:

* Accurate time keeping without human intervention.

* Automatic theatre billing.

* Increased efficiency in theatre management.

* Credibility in theatre times produced.

* Improved process flow of the patient in theatre.

* Improved cash flow due to fewer queries from insurance companies.

* Tracking of personnel and assets using same infrastructure.

* Flexible and adaptable system.

Other applications for RFID

It does not matter what the initial reason for installing an RFID infrastructure is. Once the infrastructure exists in a facility it can be used for multiple applications. Some examples are:

* Issuing personnel with tags that have embedded panic buttons allows for the tracking of personnel and doubles as a means of calling for help in an emergency.

* Tagging valuable items to prevent theft but also to determine where critical equipment is located when needed in an emergency.

* Using RFID readers to confirm that ambulances have all the equipment required before leaving to attend to an emergency.

* The use of mobile RFID readers to locate equipment and people.

The future

The RFID industry is evolving at a rapid rate and already tests are done on tags with embedded sensors that allows for the measurement of temperature, heart rate and environmental conditions. Tags are also designed with more built-in intelligence and functions that allows for the implementation of complex solutions using a fairly inexpensive piece of equipment.

RFID technology has the ability to play a major role in making the public healthcare environment safer and more efficient.

For more information contact Holbert System Solutions, +27 (0)21 551 7574, john@holbertsystems.co.za, www.holbertsystems.co.za

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