Security in healthcare: Using RFID tags to track wandering patients

by Mac Thompson on Feb 10, 2015 2:30:00 PM

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Losing a patient due to wandering is a frightening situation that can plague any healthcare facility. Whether they suffer from a decreased mental capacity and wander into a restricted department or are bored and simply want some fresh air, missing ambulatory patients put themselves at risk for serious harm—and in some cases, death—without fully realizing it. Thankfully, innovative tagging and tracking systems that incorporate RFID and WiFi technology pose the best possible solution for combating hospital wanderers.

Simply telling a patient, “please stay in your room,” does not always work. Patients that are well enough to walk often get antsy, and disoriented patients may not fully comprehend instruction or forget what they are told. And on the opposite side of the spectrum, healthcare providers can’t exactly go around and start locking patients in their rooms. The overall goal is to find a balance between ensuring the patient’s well-being without severely limiting their freedom and causing unnecessary stress and anxiety. Thankfully, patient tracking systems can monitor a patients’ location, allowing healthcare providers to keep a virtual eye on them and enabling patients to be safe in a gentle and respectful manner.

In order for the tracking system to be fully effective, all patients must wear wristbands, bracelets, or some wearable object with a small RFID tag that corresponds to their identity. The tag transmits signals every few seconds to provide nearby sensors information regarding the patient’s location, which is collected and presented visually via a computer application. This solution creates specific zones that safeguard the patient while enabling the security team to identify, track, and locate them throughout the facility. If a patient has wandered into a restricted zone or out of the facility completely, the system can easily set up specific alerts or alarms to allow for the appropriate security personnel to take action.

It is also important to note that an RFID tracking system also has the ability to be integrated into security systems that are already in place, such as video surveillance and access control. For example, when an alarm occurs, footage from cameras situated nearby the access point can be displayed at the security command and control center to provide more information about the individual involved in the event. The integration of the access control system can provide strategically managed access points to filter the adverse event to selected areas where security and/or staff can resolve the issue.

Of course, adopting an extensive set of policies and procedures along with electronic monitoring and tracking systems will provide the most comprehensive protection against wandering patients within a healthcare facility. The combination of integrated security technologies with preventative procedures will minimize the risk to patients while boosting overall satisfaction.

Related blog post: Security in healthcare: Prevent infant abductions with RFID tags

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This post was written by Mac Thompson

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