Cisco, GE Combine Location-Aware Technology to Track Patients, Equipment

Cisco will integrate its wireless location-aware network with GE's AgileTrac automated workflow platform to better manage the inventory of medical equipment and the flow of patients.

Cisco has joined with GE Healthcare to combine its Unified Wireless Network and Context-Aware Software with GE's AgileTrac platform to manage the flow of patients and medical assets.

The two companies announced the agreement at the HIMSS11 conference in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 21 and will demonstrate the technology at the show, which runs Feb. 20-24.

Location-aware technologies are becoming essential in health care to keep track of equipment and patients. More than 90 percent of large U.S. hospitals implement WiFi networks along with RTLSs (real-time location systems) to track the flow of medical assets such as pumps, beds, wheelchairs, X-ray machines, patient tags, glucose monitors and laptops, according to GE and Cisco.

Often these WiFi and RTLS location-tracking systems are separate, and a challenge exists within health care to fill a gap of "siloed data" between WiFi and RTLS. The platform from Cisco and GE combines these two systems into one.

"Really for the first time, hospital won't have to make a choice; they'll be able to do both," Dan Neuwirth, strategic growth and development manager for GE Healthcare's Performance Solutions division, told eWEEK.

When clinics lose track of equipment, the additional purchases lead to ballooning budgets, and health care companies are under public pressure to keep costs down, Sylvia Hooks, Cisco's senior manager of mobility marketing, told eWEEK. As a whole, hospitals have an average 15 percent equipment loss rate, she said.

In fact, hospitals often report the need for more equipment but misplace large amounts of current equipment inventory at the same time. "Research suggests that hospitals have a lot more equipment than they need," Neuwirth said. Time spent looking for equipment adds significant time to a nurse's shift, he added.

"It's not only an efficiency issue we're solving here, but a quality-of-care issue," he said.

The Cisco Unified Wireless Network and 3300 Series Mobility Services Engine (MSE) allow medical practices to maintain a central view of their workflow from anywhere in their facilities. The MSE features an open API.

Cisco's MSE runs Context-Aware Software, which provides real-time resource location information on equipment, patients and staff.

Meanwhile, GE's Web-based AgileTrac automated workflow application provides a way for health care facilities to track mobile medical equipment, workflows and patients. AgileTrac is part of GE's Healthymagination campaign, which aims to provide improved health at a lower cost.

Bon Secours Richmond Health System, the largest hospital system in Virginia, is participating in a pilot project using the platform from Cisco and GE.

In the trial, Bon Secours has tracked more than 17,400 assets, including PCs, IP phones and patients.

"With increasing financial pressures, the need for operational excellence is a necessity. Bon Secours is already benefiting from real-time data on the location and movement of mobile equipment and patients through the GE AgileTrac RFID network to make smart decisions to improve care delivery and hospital operations," Jeff Pearson, vice president of information services for Bon Secours Richmond, said in a statement.

Hospitals such as Bon Secours are able to integrate their existing WiFi-based assets into the Cisco GE platform.

"You don't have to tag anything because it's already going to be on your WiFi network," Hooks said.

In other HIMSS news, GE reports that its Centricity Enterprise 6.9 EHR (electronic health record) platform has received 2011/2012 certification by Drummond Group, a certifier designated by the Office of the National Coordinator.

GE also announced two new versions of Centricity: Practice Solution 10 and Patient Online 12. Practice Solution 10 adds embedded reports for health care providers to track their progress on satisfying federal meaningful-use guidelines on EHRs and to qualify for stimulus money. The product will be available in the second quarter of 2011.

Available now, Patient Online 12 Web portal helps providers streamline their workflow to include the patient's home. It also provides patients with electronic copies of their health information, including lab results and medication allergies.