Jan 05 2021

How RFID Solutions Improve Patient Safety and Hospital Workflow

Healthcare providers use RFID-enabled technology, including real-time location systems, to track patients, locate equipment and expedite care.

Pratt Regional Medical Center makes sure no newborn babies are abducted or accidentally switched at birth by attaching bands with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags around their ankles.

In 2018, the 35-bed acute care hospital in Pratt, Kan., deployed a real-time location system (RTLS) and Hugs infant security technology from Stanley Healthcare — integrated with its existing Cisco wireless network — to monitor and track the real-time location of newborns.

The system sounds an alarm to alert nurses if the Hugs tags are cut or tampered with. If someone takes a baby near an exit door, the door locks automatically, and an alarm goes off. Mothers also receive a wristband that pairs with their infants to ensure there are no mix-ups.

“We want to provide families with better protection for their new babies and not have mothers and fathers worrying about their safety,” says Dustin Newby, IT director for PRMC.

RFID technology, which uses wireless communication to identify and track people and equipment, has seen strong adoption in healthcare in recent years. When paired with an RTLS or indoor positioning system, RFID tags allow healthcare providers to not only track newborns, but also prevent older patients with dementia or other cognitive issues from wandering offsite, says Tim Gee, principal of Medical Connectivity Consulting.

“It’s a huge concern because it’s a huge liability for hospitals,” he says.

Hospitals also use RFID tools to measure temperatures and monitor hand hygiene for infection control. Beyond improving patient safety, this technology can help hospitals save money by enabling employees to work more productively and efficiently.

The use cases for RFID, besides asset management, include providing real-time insight on the location of medical equipment, and improving patient workflow by automating what used to be a manual process of managing and scheduling procedures, Gee says.

“The real attractive ROI is orchestrating workflow, tracking staff and patients, and being able to track events, such as surgical procedures, to make sure everything runs smoothly,” he says.

The Tools That Enhance Infant Safety

While infant abductions rarely occur, PRMC updated its infant security system in 2018 to give new parents peace of mind that their babies are secure.

The hospital chose Stanley Healthcare’s RTLS and infant protection software for several reasons, including its reasonable cost, ability to track infants as they move around the birthing unit and ability to expand infant tracking throughout the hospital, says Brenda Blankenship, nurse manager of PRMC’s family birth suites. The RFID tags on each baby continuously communicate with the hospital’s Wi-Fi network.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: Learn why now is the time for hospitals to be investing in RFID.

“We can look on the computer and see a map of each baby’s location,” she says.

From a technical standpoint, Stanley Healthcare’s technology offers single sign-on capabilities and integrates well with the hospital’s existing Wi-Fi network. PRMC has standardized on a variety of products from Cisco, including access points, wireless controllers, the Mobility Services Engine (MSE) and RTLS technology, which works hand in hand with Stanley Healthcare’s AeroScout RTLS software, Newby says.

AeroScout, installed in the hospital’s data center, loads maps and other information from Cisco MSE, allowing staff to see baby locations throughout the hospital, he says.

To provide more precise locations of each child’s whereabouts in the family birth suites, the IT staff quadrupled the number of access points on the floor from four to 16. They also installed devices called “exciters” at each exit door to monitor for infant tags.

If a baby goes within five feet, the system automatically locks the door. And if an exit door is held open beyond normal limits, the system alerts nurses with an alarm, Newby says.

Improving Patient Workflow with RFID Tags

In Los Angeles, Adventist Health White Memorial improved operating room turnaround time by 27 to 24 minutes after deploying RFID tags and cloud-based software that combines RTLS, operating room workflow management and mobile communications.

The 353-bed hospital, which has six operating rooms, uses the technology to make sure surgeries start on time and to reduce wait times between registration, the preoperative assessment, the surgery itself and the postoperative recovery room.

$1 million

The amount Adventist Health White Memorial saved by using RFID-enabled workflow software to speed turnaround time in its operating rooms.

Source: Adventist Health

“We have a busy surgical schedule and have to be efficient,” says Randy Saad, the hospital’s director of perioperative services.

When patients check in, they receive an RFID-chipped wristband. The RFID tags communicate with the RTLS and workflow software over the Wi-Fi network every two to three seconds. When patients move, sensors strategically placed in rooms and hallways detect their location, allowing hospital staff to know where patients are at all times.

Nurses can look at their monitors to get a real-time assessment of workflow. Each patient is color-coded, and the color changes if a patient waits longer than 30 minutes to get into pre-op.

“If we get behind, we can call another department and ask, ‘Can you pre-op a couple of patients?’ and that takes the pressure off of patients having to wait,” Saad says.

The RFID technology, which the hospital formally deployed in 2012, also sends automatic alerts to staffers’ mobile phones to provide real-time workflow information. It can send warnings that the recovery room is about to fill up or alert housekeepers that an operating room needs to be cleaned.

Using Tags to Monitor Temperature for Supply Storage

Asset tracking systems use tags that support different technologies for transmitting data. Besides RFID, healthcare providers can deploy tags that use Wi-Fi, infrared and even ultrasound.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: The tech trends that will drive healthcare in 2021.

For example, Covenant Health, which operates seven hospitals in west Texas and eastern New Mexico, has deployed a mix of Wi-Fi and RFID tags for measuring temperature and humidity and for tracking medical equipment.

In 2017, the company began piloting Wi-Fi tags with sensors to monitor temperature and humidity in refrigerators that store food, vaccines and medication at Covenant Specialty Hospital in Lubbock, Texas, says Ubong Okpon, Covenant’s regulatory project manager. The tags also monitor temperature and humidity in a variety of rooms, including operating rooms.

Rather than manually check temperatures every day, Covenant’s leadership team decided to automate temperature tracking to better meet requirements set by The Joint Commission, Okpon says.

The tags read the temperatures and send the data in real time over the wireless network to cloud-based clinical software. If temperatures move out of an established range, the software notifies hospital staff via email or text message, he says.

Covenant has expanded the pilot to several other hospitals. It recently deployed RFID tags in Covenant Medical Center’s emergency department to track doctors and nurses and measure their responsiveness to trauma events.

The health system has also begun using Wi-Fi tags to track medical equipment, such as IV pumps and virtual patient observation tools, at two hospitals.

“If nursing needs an IV pump, they can locate it right away and not have to hunt for it in different departments,” he says. “It gives them more time for patient care.”

artpartner-images/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT