RFID, RTLS Energize Hospital Industry

RFID, RTLS Energize Hospital Industry
RFID Microchip compared with a grain of rice

Using state-of-the-art GIS technologies, health care providers are developing smarter medical centers.

At the Nashville Medical Trade Center, developers announced an 80,000-square-foot Health care Consortium to use RFID technology (a wireless non-contact system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to an object, for the purposes of automatic identification and tracking).

The RFID in Health Care Consortium (RHCC) is a not-for-profit, subsidiary organization of The International RFID Business Association (RFIDBA) and was founded in 2008 to initially address emergency medicine issues with RFID, but has evolved into a trade group to promote the adoption of RFID and real-time locating systems (RTLS).

For the Nashville project, the company said the complex will be developed in three phases: The Intelligent Hospital, The Center of Excellence and International Technology Pavilions.

“Our effort to create a unified marketplace for health care ideas and innovation strongly complements the mission of the RHCC,” said Bill Winsor, president and CEO of Market Center Management, the developer of the Nashville Medical Trade Center, told the Nashville Post. “A permanent showcase for technology aligned with the Intelligent Hospital will capitalize on the significant number of companies and fast-emerging solutions in advanced wireless technology. The interest in the RHCC center, particularly from international health care companies and provider organizations, will be significant.”

According to an RHCC press release, the Intelligent Hospital will showcase solutions that incorporate auto-ID/Bar code scanning, RFID, RTLS sensors and wireless technologies designed to optimize and enhance workflow and enable rapid response to critical issues. In the second phase, this will be complemented with the construction of an assisted/independent living home and nursing home room showcasing auto-ID, biometrics, NFC, RFID, RTLS, sensors, wireless and associated technologies in long-term care settings. The Center of Excellence will be a comprehensive research, training, teaching and testing environment unique in the world for RFID, RTLS and associated technologies.

Hospitals of the future

The Nashville medical center is among several tapping into geospatial technologies like RFID and RTLS to save money and improve service.

A 2009 joint study with Indiana University and Purdue University showed the use of RTLS saved the hospital nearly $750,000 in indirect costs, as well as reducing the time spent by staff in searching for medical equipment by 96 percent.

More recent literature indicates RTLS helps hospitals improve patient flow and clinical efficiency by using location tags to find resources. This in turn decreases wait times, enhances asset utilization and asset loss, according to the SecuredgeNetworks.com blog.

RFID and RTLS tags can also be used on patients, alerting staff when one wanders outside, and ensuring equipment is not misplaced.

Last year, a University of Cincinnati study showed RFID technology helped the hospital cut 18 percent in labor costs associated with resupplying medicines, materials, devices and office supplies.

This is significant because hospitals typically resupply nursing stations on a schedule vs. when items run low. Researchers say schedule resupply has fixed costs and leaves caregivers scrambling when supply runs out before the scheduled restock.

With RFID, the technology sends a signal to workers that replenishment is in order. One hospital executive compared the system to a major retailer.

the system helps the hospital move from a reactive method of tracking inventory, to a pro-active method. “If you go to Target and you want to know how many they have of a product, they track that in real time,” David Greenberg, inventory manager for Tufts Medical Center, told  MassHighTech.com. “Most hospitals don’t do that.”

If the Nashville project is any indication, that is changing. Ten years from now, hospitals are likely using RFID technology as frequent as they use x-ray machines.