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Your RFID Battle Plan

Your RFID Battle Plan

Electronic tags still don’t top CIO strategy lists. But as a tactical weapon, RFID can be used to fight old problems in new ways

While the hospital could use barcodes to accomplish the same goal, it decided to test an RFID-based system because Specht envisions using a similar approach to track blood products - where RFID-sensor combinations could also monitor temperature to ensure blood does not get spoiled before use. It made sense to start with an RFID infrastructure given the likely future uses, he says.

Rich Schaeffer, vice president and CIO of St Clair Hospital in Pittsburgh, started with a barcode-based system for tracking and validating medication dispensing. But nurses were convinced the scanning of their ID, patient bracelet and drug package container slowed them down, even though Schaeffer's studies showed otherwise. So he added RFID tags to patient bracelets and nurses' IDs (at the cost of about $US1 each) so nurses could scan faster with their handheld readers. But he kept barcodes on the medications, mainly to save costs - "it's too costly given the number of tags we'd need," he says - and because the robotic drug dispensary system supports only barcodes. To support both barcodes and RFID tags, he uses a dual-technology reader from Socket Mobile.

At the University of Ghent Hospital in Ghent, Belgium, CIO Bart Sijnave has decided to keep his barcode-based system for drug dispensation tracking. "It's a cheap solution that works," he says.

But Sijnave is testing other RFID uses where the productivity benefit seems to outweigh the costs. To reduce emergency response time in the intensive care unit, the hospital has installed a dense wireless LAN to connect various monitors so they can transmit readings to the patients' electronic medical records and to nurses' monitoring stations. It uses the same Cisco wireless LAN and location software from AeroScout to detect where these often portable monitors are on the floor (by seeking a signal from the RFID tag), and highlights the location to the nurses if a monitor's alarm goes off. "The nurses can now act more quickly," Sijnave says.

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