Smart scalpels

More safety for the patient and more efficient processes at hospitals – these are the benefits which it is hoped will be gained with smart objects in the day-to-day running of a clinic. In the first projects, RFID chips are being used to track surgical instruments or blood reserves and to record their status.

Unorganised management of surgical instruments at hospitals not only results in significant costs, but can also cost lives. Errors in the cleaning and sterilisation process, for example, can significantly increase the risk of hospital acquired infections – a problem, which hospitals are faced with more and more frequently.  An increasing number of clinics are therefore using Internet of Things technologies to manage medical equipment and instruments. The money spent on RFID systems for tracking medical items is expected to triple this year – according to the market research institute Transparency Market Research, the total spending in 2012 of around 450 million dollars will increase to 1.7 billion dollars in 2013.

Improving management of OP tools

A Scandinavian consortium of hospitals, lead by the Rigshospitalet hospital in Copenhagen, launched a pilot project this year in which surgical instruments and bowls are managed using RFID technology. For the first time, all the stations of surgical instruments in a hospital can be tracked with a single system – from the operating room, through to cleaning and storage. For example, the RFID chips enable the state and number of OP tools and equipment to be monitored much more effectively during the preparation process and during an operation. This puts an end to instruments being “left behind” in the patient’s body or equipment being used, which has not been sterilised. The RFID chip fitted in the instruments is so small and light that it does not hinder the surgeon during the operation. It also passes on its information without interference from the large number of metal objects found in a hospital. It can withstand the high temperatures in an autoclave and the chemicals used on surgical instruments during the sterilisation process. The project will run over several years and the first results already show that the “smart” instruments not only increase patient safety, but also improve the logistics and workflow in the hospital. The hospital running costs are cut and the work involved in inventory management is reduced.

The right blood reserves at all times

But it’s not only equipment that can be linked using RFID tags. Wireless tags can also help to increase safety and make processes more efficient when tracking medication, vaccines or blood reserves. The US Institute of Medicine and other organisations claim, for example, that people die time and time again in the USA because they have been given the wrong blood type. SysLogic has therefore developed a system based on RFID tags, which can be used to track the entire “life cycle” of blood reserves from start to finish. The iTrace system approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be used to track the current location, movement and status of blood reserves. Information can also be saved on the blood reserves, relating to the blood donation, expiration date and blood group. “Our three month pilot use of iTrace showed significant efficiency and accuracy gains of blood products, from donation through to delivery,” states Lynne Briggs, Vice President & CIO, BloodCenter of Wisconsin. “We are just now digging into the additional compliance gains the solution provides with its granular and up to date data.”

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