Boston hospital will track assets with wireless system

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a busy hospital in Boston, needed a way to more efficiently track the location of costly medical equipment — and to keep tabs on patients and its medical staff. But the hospital also wanted to leverage an ongoing investment in wireless networks to avoid any technology redundancy.

So John Halamka, CIO at parent company CareGroup Inc., is turning to a new asset tracking and visibility system built around wireless LANs and radio frequency identification tags. The system, which was announced last week by PanGo Networks Inc., uses an infrastructure of 802.11 wireless access points as its reader network. That eliminates the need for single-use RFID readers, according to PanGo.

The Framingham, Mass.-based vendor said its PanGo Locator system provides map-based views of assets that users can drill down into on a floor-by-floor basis. Users can get detailed data about individual assets by clicking on their map images, and the system logs and stores activity data for reporting and analysis.

PanGo is offering a version of its technology tailored for hospitals, and Beth Israel is one of the pilot sites.

The two-campus hospital “has probably millions and millions of dollars of mission-critical equipment,” Halamka said. But between US$300,000 and US$400,000 worth of the equipment disappears each year, “because in the course of normal care, it gets misplaced,” he added. “What RFID does, in an active way, is to say right now where our equipment is.”

Beth Israel is currently working on campuswide WLAN deployments to provide wireless voice-over-IP and location-based communications services, as well as improved data connectivity, said Halamka. The hospital bought WLAN technology from Cisco Systems Inc., which is working with PanGo to deliver a turnkey system.

Installation of PanGo Locator is due to start later this month at Beth Israel, said Richard Barnwell, PanGo’s chief technology officer. The hospital initially will use the geolocator technology in its emergency room and cardiac care unit to track mobile medical equipment, Barnwell said.

He added that the system will also monitor the locations of medical staffers to help hospital officials analyze workflow. During the pilot phase, people will be given pager-like devices containing the RFID tags. Later, the tags could be embedded in wristbands or attached to neck cords.

Halamka said Beth Israel also plans to use PanGo’s technology to track the whereabouts of patients. As part of the project, the hospital will integrate patient location data with its electronic whiteboard, a 50-in. plasma screen that shows detailed information about each patient — although only initials are used to protect privacy.

“Now, we’ll not only be able to show that Mrs. Smith has had this lab result and is going to be admitted to cardiology but that the patient is currently in radiology receiving a test,” Halamka said. “There’s a lot of workflow optimization just making your emergency room work better because you can co-ordinate all the caregivers and all the patients.”

Halamka said Beth Israel’s investment in WLAN infrastructure was a big factor in its decision to choose PanGo’s system. “I can say the wireless network is already there, and now it does something else,” he said. “That’s a huge win for me as a CIO.”

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