Six Ways Wireless Technology Is Transforming Health Care

    Hospitals are extremely complex and dynamic organizations. Doctors, clinicians, staff, patients and equipment are constantly on the move; hospitals must comply with a range of strict regulations and there are periods of high stress and life-and-death decisions. At the same time, there’s constant pressure on hospital administrators to lower costs while continuing to improve the level of patient care and satisfaction.

    In this environment, hospitals are increasingly turning to wireless technologies to operate more efficiently, support patient care and improve the patient experience. Here are some examples, identified by Stanley Healthcare, of how they’re doing this.

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    Click through for six ways hospitals are using wireless technology to improve patient care, as identified by Stanley Healthcare.

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    Nurses are vitally important to hospital operations and patient care, but they are often under stress and extremely busy. To better understand and improve the workflow of nursing staff, Florida Hospital’s Celebration Health equips nurse ID badges with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that works with the hospital’s Wi-Fi network. The tags track the movement of nurses throughout their shift. The data is captured and analyzed, providing valuable insights Celebration Health can use to make improvements to processes.

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    Hospitals use a wide range of expensive, highly specialized equipment and devices, such as IV pumps, specialty beds, even wheelchairs and canes, which are always being moved from placed to place. Keeping track of all this equipment and making sure it’s in the right place at the right time – and in the right condition – is extraordinarily difficult and time-consuming for hospital staff.

    Wireless RFID technology now allows hospitals to track not only the real-time location of critical equipment, but also the status or condition of the equipment. For example, it is possible to know if an item is in use or idle, or if it has gone through the sterilization process. This eliminates hours of searching and allows clinicians and nursing staff to focus on caring for patients. The Shands hospital at the University of Florida, for example, has experienced a 98.8 percent reduction in the hours spent searching for missing items through the use of wireless technology.

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    There are many situations in hospitals where the environment needs to be monitored closely and kept within narrow limits. For example, hospitals typically have hundreds of refrigerators spread around that are used to store tissue samples, vaccines and medicines, and even some for food. Hospitals also need to maintain a certain humidity range in their operating rooms and patient rooms sometimes need to be monitored closely for temperature and humidity for comfort. Even server rooms need to be kept within a certain temperature range, or the equipment can begin to fail.

    By attaching sensors to wireless RFID tags that can send temperature or humidity data over Wi-Fi, hospitals can record temperatures at regular intervals and be automatically alerted if conditions exceed a predetermined range. This translates into tremendous cost savings because it helps prevent spoilage of expensive tissue or medicines or failure of servers, and it supports compliance and reporting. Moreover, the tags can be placed anywhere and moved at will without the need to re-wire, so the staff no longer needs to monitor conditions manually.

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    Wireless technology is also used in hospitals to enhance security. For example, Memorial Hermann Health System and many other hospitals across the country use the Hugs infant protection system to help prevent child abductions from hospitals. In fact, the Hugs system protects more than 1.5 million infants worldwide each year.

    Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel is using wireless technology in a different way to improve security and reduce stress for patients and their families. Its staff members, from doctors to nurses and clinicians, wear ID badges with an integrated RFID tag. Whenever a staff member enters a patient’s room, her photo, name and job function appears on the patient’s in-room screen. This allows the patient to easily and positively identify staff and it lets the patient’s family know who has visited the patient and when.

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    According to the Center for Disease Control, hospital-acquired infections cause approximately 100,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. That is why improving hand hygiene is a significant focus for the global health care community and a top priority for organizations such as The Joint Commission, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, among others. Sensors in soap and hand sanitizer dispensers that communicate with RFID tags in staff identification badges can now determine if and when staff sanitize their hands. This not only aids in regulatory compliance and reporting, but also helps the hospital understand behaviors and improve processes, which can ultimately save lives.

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    In the era of Big Data, the health care community is now also beginning to use sophisticated data analytics to improve hospital operations. All of the wireless sensors hospitals are using generate tremendous amounts of data. This data can be mined to provide new insights into hospital operations never before available to hospital leaders.

    Combining real-time visual analytics with a real-time location system is an area of significant promise for hospitals. For example, by mining the vast amounts of data hospitals generate using RTLS for tracking thousands of pieces of equipment, hospitals can solve complex resourcing issues and optimize the use of equipment — reducing the amount of equipment they need to purchase. Or, hospitals can mine workflow data of staff to identify patterns that can help hospitals transform processes.

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