Monday, January 23, 2006

RFID in the Hospital

This article describes a proposed system in for patient tracking in the OR -- basically, ensuring accurate time information for when patients enter and leave the operating room. This is important in the world of hospital CFOs, who need accurate billing information (most ORs base charges on the amount of time a patient spends in surgery). The system tracks patients with an RFID tag, which is attached to the bed.

Holbert Systems installed a Wavetrend RFID reader in each theatre and a data buffer per theatre complex. A record of the patient's identity, along with the precise time spent in surgery, could be transmitted to a software interface capable of communicating with the hospital's own information system.

By confirming the accuracy of time-keeping, Medi-Clinic say the system has dramatically improved payment terms with insurance companies. Initial figures show that this benefit, along with the greater operational efficiency within the pilot hospitals, means the system will have a pay-back of less than 12 months.

Manager of Patient Administration at Medi-Clinic Deon van Blommestein says the system provides benefits to both the patients and the funders, since the theatre times produced are accurate and thus indisputable.
I think this type of technology could be used throughput the hospital, allowing accurate tracking of patients in the ED, to and from Radiology, in the OR, even during registration. That allows the hospital to identify common bottlenecks in patient care --- such as OR turnover (the time between patients in the OR is just as important to the bottom line as the time patients spend there), patient transport problems, etc. It may be, as I suspect, that hospitals will find that adding a few extra transport personnel and radiology techs ends up making them more money in the long run. We could also "tag" items such as surgical trays or other equipment to monitor their usage and movement through the system (such as when they go for cleaning and sterilization). In the US, Medicare does not pay hospitals for the time a patient spends in the OR, as payment is based on DRG information. However, if enough data can be obtained across many facilities that indicates that the payment is inadequate compared to the time most patients spend in the OR, payment could theoretically be changed.

Now, if we could just find a way to place an RFID tag on physicians who are on call, we might just get somewhere!

ADDENDUM -- A few more thoughts about FRID from a non-physician perspective can be found at Medical Connectivity Consulting.