Asset tracking in medicine

Hospitals are institutions where, apart from a large number of personnel and rapidly rotating patients, more and more specialist medical instruments, medications and records can be found. The larger the facility, the more time it takes to find a particular piece of portable medical equipment and to keep records in order; hence the latest location systems play such an important part in raising the standards of work efficiency and in managing medical facilities.

Active Positioning Systems as a Solution Similar to Bluetooth

The main task of active positioning systems is to ensure efficient management of medical resources. Each resource has to be properly identified. The location system detects every item’s current position and delivers notifications via a suitable network or application while, at the same time, medical staff receive information concerning the actual location of the equipment.

The asset tracking positioning system, developed at Comarch laboratories, is a solution designed for the management of hospital resources. It provides assistance in real-time tracking, monitoring, and analyzing the status and circulation of both human and material resources. Positioning systems can be divided into passive and active ones. The latter are those that keep you informed about the current location of a person or a piece of medical equipment by constantly emitting an appropriate signal. Elements to be located are equipped with Comarch Beacons, which are small and simple transmitters using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, while Hubs are installed at the spots that determine the location of assets, to ensure two-way communication between the devices and a special platform managing them in the cloud. When a signal emitted by a Comarch Beacon reaches a given Hub, we know that the equipment or person being located is in the room where the Hub has been installed.


Use of Beacons in Asset Tracking

Beacons come in different forms, depending on their purpose. They can be attached in matchbox-size boxes to some particularly valuable medical equipment. For medical personnel and patients, the most comfortable solutions are versions in the form of a bracelet, which are, in addition, equipped with a temperature sensor, accelerometer, and emergency button. The temperature sensor tells us whether the bracelet is actually being worn; the accelerometer alerts the system automatically when the patient suddenly loses consciousness and falls, while the emergency button enables a recumbent patient to call for help if they gets worse. An indisputable advantage of the active systems is that they provide accurate location without the need to store and analyze any historical data. In addition, thanks to the fact that they only indicate the current location of a transmitter, personnel are located with respect to privacy principles.


Passive Positioning Systems as an Expanded Version of Active Location

Considering that active systems require a power supply (for example, batteries), which increases the weight and size of the transmitter, a different system had to be developed that could be applied to identify and locate medical records, medications and surgical instruments. For this purpose, passive location systems have been developed, meeting requirements perfectly in such cases.

Elements to be located are equipped with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) labels, while at the spots that determine their location Hubs with RFID scanners are installed. Portable versions of such scanners are also used to locate some of the elements. An RFID label is a small sticker that can be applied where, for instance, barcodes might have been used previously. In order to emit a signal, such a passive RFID label also needs some energy, which is, however, drawn from the magnetic field generated by the scanner. The condition for the identification is the closeness of the magnetic field; therefore, as part of passive location systems, control gates are created and usually installed in narrow passages, for instance, by the door embrasures.


Advantages of Using Passive Location Systems

The chief virtues of passive systems are their small dimensions and low costs of each individual label, as well as good resistance to external factors such as high and low temperatures and humidity, and very high mechanical robustness. Thanks to these advantages, passive systems are successfully applied to medical records and archives where, by abandoning alphabetic storage systems, you can minimize the space necessary for the archiving of various documents. In addition, no unauthorized person (i.e., anyone not equipped with an RFID scanner) will be able to find particular files while searching by name, and it is possible to set up notifications or alerts if records are not returned in due time.


Application of Passive Systems in Medical Facilities

Passive location systems also find application in controlling surgical instrument sets and emergency medical kits. Here, the completeness of such units is crucial, so by equipping the surgical instruments with RFID modules, we are able to use a scanner to check - quickly and without actually opening the kit – whether all the necessary instruments are inside. We also receive information on the date they were last sterilized, or on the expiration date of the medications in storage. Thus, it is possible to determine – for instance, following an operation – whether all the instruments have left the operating room, and to eliminate the problem of losing precious medical equipment.

Asset tracking is also an excellent system for locating medications, since this solution allows us to monitor and keep stocks only at the required level, avoid dispensing pharmaceutical products that have exceeded their expiration date, and shorten the length of time it takes the hospital personnel to find them. By just identifying them with RFID labels, we are able to keep track of quantities, use medications with the shortest expiry date first, and, in the event of any medical product being withdrawn from the market, we are able to locate it efficiently and replace it with another drug. Competently implemented positioning systems definitely raise the everyday standards of work efficiency of medical personnel, thus improving the quality of patient care. They also assist medical management teams in taking more accurate decisions, and improve the quality of data collection, facilitating access to records.

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