Hospitals Save Costs, Time with Wireless Tags

Many hospitals are turning to RFID technology to keep track of expensive mobile equipment, including pumps, wheelchairs and patient monitors.

A typical hospital owns more infusion pumps than licensed beds. Although not every patient needs a pump, leaving many idle, the hospital rents still more of them to be sure that a nurse can find one when its needed.

At thousands of dollars a pump, such equipment surpluses are expensive. As a result, many hospitals are turning to RFID technology to keep track of pumps, as well as other expensive mobile equipment, including wheelchairs and patient monitors. According to a report by Spyglass Consulting, the number of hospitals using RFID tags to track assets will skyrocket from 10 percent in mid-2005 to 45 percent by the end of 2007. Such programs promise to cut not only costs, but also the time that clinicians and engineers spend searching for equipment, and the time patients spend waiting for it.

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This month, Cisco Systems Inc. pledged to accelerate the process, launching its Clinical Connection Suite. Its latest network service prioritizes information from and tracks the locations of wireless devices, including VOIP (voice over IP) phones, laptops and certain RFID tags.

Within three years, RFID tags will be viewed as just another networked device, predicted Kent Grey, global lead for Healthcare Solutions at Cisco Systems. "Because the tags are just another device on the network, the ability to manage the tag comes with the ability to manage the network."

However, most hospitals currently using RFID tracking systems use proprietary RFID tags that communicate with RFID readers. This creates a separate RFID network that communicates with a hospitals network. According to a survey conducted in April by American RFID Solutions, GE Healthcares Intellimotion and Agility Health Care Solutions are the most popular; each controls just over a quarter of the market and provides its own tags, servers, software and access points.

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