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Security in healthcare: Asset tracking for medical equipment




There is a lot of buzz regarding RFID tags for asset tracking systems in the healthcare industry due to its numerous applications: equipment traceability, inventory management, patient/employee tracking, elopement prevention, and more. RFID initiatives are touted as the best solution to provide return on investment for healthcare facilities that consistently experience process inefficiencies and a lack of operational intelligence.

Unsurprisingly, healthcare facilities rely on thousands of dollars’ worth of medical equipment in order to care for their patients and keep satisfaction high and problems tend to arise when the equipment cannot be found due to it being misplaced or stolen. It is estimated that anywhere from 15-20% of medical staff shifts is spent searching for necessary equipment to perform their jobs. Not only does this unproductive work time place a drain on the hospital’s budget, but it also has the ability to negatively affect patient safety and satisfaction as a result of delayed care, and may frustrate staff, producing an overall reduction in employee morale. Thankfully, innovative solutions involving RFID tags integrated into real-time locating systems (RTLS) alleviate many of these issues, as long as they are implemented properly.

Once an asset has been tagged, staff members can easily search for the item using RTLS software and locate the asset much more quickly and efficiently, allowing staff to focus more of their time tending to their essential role of caring for patients. For example, if a rather absent-minded nurse were to accidentally remove a piece of equipment outside of a certain authorized area, the tag located recognized the radio signal emitted from the reader near the exit and “reflects” the data back to the reader, triggering an automatic alert to be immediately sent to the management software. Over time, historical tracking reports are generated which provides users to go back and trace the movement of assets. The automatic tracking of movement improves visibility and accountability and also reduces the amount of theft. Other features of asset tracking technology include:

  • Programmable motion detection: Tags attached to expensive and/or rare assets can trigger alarms if the equipment is not supposed to be moved.
  • Two-way communication: Smart tags can be configured to send alerts if maintenance or repairs are needed, and in turn can receive signals to either flash or chirp for personnel can quickly identify required equipment in a crowded room.
  • Harsh physical environment protection: Tags that are applied to large pieces of equipment or assets that may be subject to rough handling are built to withstand wear and tear.
  • Flexible and scalable: Asset management and tracking systems can add/integrate additional features as the needs of the facility grow, and the RTLS software has the ability to collect data that spans multiple campuses across large healthcare systems to aggregate and analyze, providing insight into operational processes in real time.

Rolling out a successful RFID asset tracking system enables technology to address a variety of issues, but it requires extensive up-front planning and a strategic approach to achieve the final vision of improving processes and visibility with a facility.

Related blog posts: Using RFID tags to track wandering patients; Prevent infant abductions with RFID tags