RFID & RTLS can save lives

Beyond asset tracking and supply chain management, wireless technology is critical to patient safety.
By Mike Miliard
04:02 PM
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While they're still underused in healthcare, technologies such as radio-frequency identification and real-time locating systems are already transforming how some hospitals operate -- and they have an even bigger role to play in the hospitals of the future.

Sunday, during the day-long RFID & RTLS in Healthcare Symposium at HIMSS13, envelope-pushing experts discussed how wireless technology is being deployed for much more than just supply chain management, showing how real-time data can increase patient safety.

The best way to put RFID and RTLS to work is with an integrated, enterprise-wide approach. That it isn't easy. But the symposium's sessions showcased best practices for putting the proper building blocks in place and then reaping their rewards: capturing data, aggregating it, analyzing it and extracting knowledge to drive efficiencies and improve care.

In his afternoon session, "The Intelligent Hospital: Why Coordination and Speed are Critical to Patient Safety," John Wass, CEO of Littleton, Mass.-based Wavemark, Inc., showed just how important real-time information – accessed at the right time – can spur better care delivery.

Rather than just singing the praises of wireless IT, however, Wass offered case studies showing how "people, process and technology" must work in tandem to realize its potential.

A hospital, after all, especially the ED, is "almost like a war environment," said Wass: periods of quiet punctuated by dramatic and often chaotic situations where "everything is going crazy."

In those situations, "real-time information is absolutely critical," he said. One way of getting that information is via RFID – active or passive tags that can show whether a needed piece of equipment is there or not – and if it is nearby, where exactly it is. They can track critical medication, and tell whether it's safe to administer or expired.

Wireless technologies allow caregivers "to focus on the patient," rather than on time-draining administrative tasks, said Wass. In emergency situation, they can offer clear directives, preventing nurses and physicians (both of which are in short supply these days) from overreacting to stress.

In a "battle against time," with "limited human resources," he said, "automated or semi-automated data collection is critical to winning the battle."