RFID
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Lifespan rolls out RFID for asset tracking and temperature monitoring

Lifespan, a health system of four hospitals in Rhode Island, has deployed an active RFID solution from AeroScout to track doctors, manage assets, and monitor the temperature of more than 600 assets like refrigerators and heating blankets.

In February, Rhode Island Hospital conducted a pilot to track physicians as they traveled through the hospital. Six physicians carried RFID tags in their pockets for a week so hospital officials could gain a better understanding of hospital workflow, part of the hospital’s Six Sigma program to eliminate unnecessary processes.

Lifespan initially rolled out RFID at Newport Hospital in July 2011 to track temperatures in refrigerators. Within days of deployment, the system triggered an email alert when a refrigerated unit malfunctioned. Hospital personnel were able to quickly move the rare cancer drugs, valued at more than $500,000, to another unit. With nearly 600 temperature sensitive tags deployed, the hospital is saving more than 12,000 labor hours required previously for manual inspections.

Within days of deploying an RFID temperature monitoring system, Newport Hospital avoided the spoilage of more than $500,000 worth of cancer drugs.

The temperature monitoring solution provided by AeroScout was the first phase of Lifespan’s RFID roll out. By leveraging its existing Wi-Fi infrastructure, Lifespan monitors the temperature of hundreds of refrigerators that contain critical items like pharmaceuticals, blood and research materials.

By automating temperature monitoring and management, Lifespan’s hospital network can eliminate manual processes that are subject to error, thereby increasing staff efficiency. Lifespan staff previously spent an average of five minutes per refrigerator each day manually checking the temperature of each unit, which added up to more than 12,000 hours per year, or the equivalent of nearly six full-time employees who can be shifted from administrative to clinical tasks.

The solution allows clinicians to focus more of their attention on patient care, while protecting refrigerated items from out-of-compliance temperature ranges and spoilage. Shortly after the system was deployed, a refrigeration unit in a cancer ward malfunctioned during an overnight shift. An immediate alert was sent to the operations staff, preventing cancer drugs worth more than $500,000 from spoiling.

“In addition to the reduction in time for people to monitor temperatures manually, we have realized incredible savings from preventing the loss of pharmaceuticals,” says Elaine Palm, director of IS infrastructure at Lifespan. “These were very scarce and extremely expensive cancer drugs.

“We needed a solution to quickly and efficiently measure, monitor and report the temperatures of hundreds of refrigerators throughout our hospitals, clinics and research facilities. This new system enables process improvement for our caregivers, and protects medications and other temperature-sensitive items that are used to care for patients.”

Lifespan isn’t stopping with RFID-enabled refrigerators and freezers. Temperature monitoring is often required for items that need to kept at warmer temperatures, such as incubators, blanket warmers and various lab devices that need to be maintained at specific temperatures. The hospital is even using the system to monitor room temperatures where certain drugs are stored on shelves.

“RFID has provided us with a whole new governance model for this very critical process,” says Palm. “Previously each department replicated the process within their department for their assets. Now for the first time we can roll up in reporting a view of the entire enterprise and get a full report of current temperatures across every monitored asset for the entire hospital. It has been very beneficial for our facilities department to have a clear view at all times of what is happening in each individual environment.”

With the success of its temperature monitoring technology, Lifespan rolled out phase two of its RFID deployment in January, an asset tracking program. To date, the hospital has tagged 388 different kinds of assets, including beds, infusion pumps, TCA pumps, radiology devices, external pacemakers, ultra sound equipment, ventilators, wheel chairs and fall prevention units.

“This assisted us with preventive maintenance, which in many cases requires equipment like an IV pump with particular serial number to be located in the hospital for preventive maintenance or perhaps a recall,” says Palm.

“Previously, the method to locate equipment was to walk the floors and try to find it. Now, we can input a serial number and a map appears with exact location of that device. You can just imagine the reduction in time savings attributed to our bio-medical engineering group that has to locate and maintain this equipment.”

Beyond managing preventive maintenance and recalls, tagging assets with RFID allows Lifespan facilities to better manage asset utilization in terms of rentals. With a real-time view of its assets, Lifespan has reduced its outlay for buying and leasing new equipment like wheel chairs, which are moved frequently and are difficult to track.

“We are adding new devices daily as we discover new capabilities that we can use the system for,” says Palm, noting that the hospital is considering monitoring food items as well to protect its food supply. “Many people don’t think about this, but hospitals run some of the biggest restaurants in the state,” she says.

According to Palm, it is entirely possible that the RFID-based system will be used to monitor people at some point – including medical personnel and patients. This is where the real sweet spot could be for hospitals, especially when it comes to the Six Sigma process improvements underway at Lifespan’s facilities.

“I see this as an early foray into the whole internet of Things, with networks connected to devices that are able to provide us with information on their status and their location that we have never had visibility to before. It’s a whole new world of information that going forward is going to be integrated more closely into hospital information systems to produce better patient care.”

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