RFID in Healthcare is The Big Easy!

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 @ 02:05 PM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Robotics

HIMSSThe Intelligent Hospital Pavilion at HIMSS in New Orleans earlier this month made it EASY to see the BIG value of RFID for improving the quality of patient care. Scenarios from the Pharmacy, OR, ICU and ED demonstrated how information is coordinated from diverse patient care environments with Near Field Communications (NFC), RFID, RTLS (real time locating systems), sensors and wireless technologies.

RFID has proven its worth in healthcare and continues to improve procedures and enhance workflows across a variety of areas, including:

Medication Management – ensures the right medication is delivered at the right time in the right dose by the right staff via the right means, as well as optimizes inventory of medication in the pharmacy.

Equipment Tracking – identifies the location and travel patterns of many types of valuable assets in real-time, resulting in reduced product loss, reduced capital equipment purchases & leases, improved maintenance levels, and enhanced patient services.

Patient/Staff Workflow – tracks the travel patterns of staff, patients and personnel in real-time for access control, improved patient & staff workflows, reduced wait times, and integration into anti-abduction, wander prevention, and hand hygiene solutions.

Departmental Loss Prevention – proven to deliver an ROI in a short period of time by saving high value assets from being mistakenly discarded.

Several of our blog posts cover the well-established use cases mentioned above. Check them out here: RFID in healthcare.

More recently, we’ve seen how this intelligent tracking can work regarding medical equipment.  For example, scientists at GE Global Research recently won a $2.5 million contract with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to develop an RFID system for their hospitals that will automate the transporting, cleaning, and storing of surgical tools.

GE’s system, which uses ThingMagic readers for its prototype designs, is the newest in a collection of smart RFID technology we’re seeing emerge in the healthcare space.



By leaving room for error in the management of surgical tools, hospitals can not only open their patients to the risks of infection, but may also slow surgery setup and turnaround times and inaccurately report their inventory. The system GE is looking to implement would use robotics to automate the transportation, cleaning, and sterilization processes but RFID would function as the brains of the operation to ensure the right tools are sterile and in the appropriate operating rooms at the right time. Together, the RFID and robotics elements would automate the collection of dirty tools from an operating room, delivery to a sterile processing center, sorting, cleaning, and sanitation post-surgery. For the next operation, tools would be automatically built into kits, sterilized, and stored until the next doctor needs them delivered to a different operating room.

The Department of Veteran Affairs, known to be early adopters of innovative IT solutions in healthcare, didn’t stop there. They also recently awarded a $543 million contract to HP Enterprise Services to put a Real Time Location System (RTLS) in place for the millions of assets at their 152 VA medical centers. An important part of this system will be the platform provided by Intelligent InSites - a ThingMagic partner - which will be applied to a number of RFID-enabled use cases, including everything from monitoring hand hygiene and tool sterilization to managing emergency department and operating room workflows. The deployment will offer the VA an unprecedented level of visibility and analytical intelligence, not only improving hospital efficiency and compliance, but also strengthening patient care and satisfaction.

Though RFID appears in different capacities throughout hospital systems – be it in dispensing medication, queuing patients, delivering surgical tools, or managing medical records – the goal behind deploying these systems remains the same: improved patient care.


Contributors: Debbie Power, ThingMagic

RFID-enabled Robots Create Efficiency in the Workplace

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 @ 11:04 AM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Manufacturing Automation, Robotics

RobotsRobots have certainly undergone their share of transformation over the years – from the  stereotypical robot in “Lost in Space” to the child-friendly WALL-E – and I think Kevin Ashton, in a recent RFID Journal article, made a good point in arguing that robots have managed to shed creepy images, but have yet to make the complete transition to being human-like.

One ongoing limitation is that robots have not been able to have a true dialogue with humans - like that between Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, who boasted to be fluent in "over six million forms of communication"! Can RFID bridge this communication gap?

A few years ago, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University embarked on a project where they used ThingMagic readers with robots in a healthcare setting. With long-range read capability, the robot named EL-E can move freely while still being able to detect RFID tags in various locations, and a finger-mounted, short-range antenna enables her to interact with a tagged object, such as handing a stethoscope to a physician.  EL-E can also assist physically-impaired people, giving them the appropriate medicine bottle when they are unable to help themselves. We’ve blogged before about how improving the patient experience can also accelerate the patients’ recovery. A robotic right-hand-man could allow nurses and physicians to spend more time researching, talking to and engaging with their patients, and therefore being able to treat the individual.

Check out another robot from Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab -  GATSBII - a PR2 robot from Willow Garage outfitted with patch antennas and a ThingMagic M5e reader, as seen on CNN’s The Big I show!

More recently, and right here in Boston, we are seeing more investment in robot technology with companies like Rethink Robotics looking for new ways to make our industries more efficient and cost-effective. Their flagship product, Baxter, is designed to fit seamlessly into a manufacturing environment to take certain types of work off the hands of employees. Because of the enhanced level of interaction between human and robot, the robot can perform risk-posing tasks such as climbing a tower to do repairs, or repetitive, assembly line work that could free up people to do more complex, value-added tasks. In doing so, people can become more productive and the business is more efficient. And we all know that greater efficiency is the key to success in today’s economy.

The video below demonstrates how Baxter interacts with humans.

With RFID tags becoming more ubiquitous , can this be the technology that breaks down that communication barrier between robots and people?

It may be a while before we can think of a robot like C-3PO as our wing-man, but with RFID we may be able to more naturally interact with the next generation of robots – not in Hollywood - but in the business arena.

Personal Robotics Advance with UHF RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 30, 2010 @ 10:10 AM

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Robotics

The Future is Closer Than We May Think

GA Tech RobotFor those of you old enough to remember Hanna Barbera’s classic cartoon The Jetsons, how many times have you wished you had a “Rosie” to cook your dinner or clean your dishes?  “She” would have made this past Thanksgiving much more effortless!

The future envisioned by the creators of The Jetsons certainly had a lot more fiction to it than we’ll ever realize.  But, for the idea of the “personal robot” represented by Rosie, the future is closer than we may think, and its name is “Ellie” (or EL-E to be exact). 

A team of researchers -- Charles Kemp, Travis Deyle and Hai Nguyen from Georgia Tech and Matthew S. Reynolds from Duke University -- is focused on applying personal robotics within healthcare and has developed several prototypes.  The challenge of personal robotics is how to make the machine perceive, manipulate and understand the world around it so it can interact with humans and objects to perform specific tasks – like loading a dishwasher or delivering medicine. 

Enter passive UHF RFID.  Humans and/or objects can be tagged with passive UHF RFID labels, providing the interface through which a personal robot can interact to carry out its tasks.  As the Georgia Tech/Duke team explains on its research page:

Passive Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID tags are well matched to robots' needs. Unlike low-frequency (LF) and high-frequency (HF) RFID tags, passive UHF RFID tags are readable from across a room, enabling a mobile robot to efficiently discover and locate them. Because they don't have onboard batteries to wear out, their lifetime is virtually unlimited. And unlike bar codes and other visual tags, RFID tags are readable when they're visually occluded. For less than $0.25 per tag, users can apply self-adhesive UHF RFID tags throughout their home. 

EL-E, one of the prototypes built by the research team, uses ThingMagic M5e UHF RFID reader modules to form the core of the robot’s RFID sensors.  The Mercury M5e is embedded in two ‘antennas’ on the robot – one for reading tags up to approximately 6 meters and other for reading the same tags within 30 centimeters of the robot’s hand.  The image above illustrates this.

The read range and reliability delivered by the ThingMagic M5e is important for this particular application.  The robot needs to be able to have as long a range as possible to detect a label from across a large room, but the finger-mounted short-range antenna is just as important to manipulate a tagged object, such as handing a bottle of medicine to a patient.

While it may be difficult to envision seeing a machine like the prototype illustrated above in your hospital room or home, one way to do so is to consider how the Georgia Tech research team partnered with Willow Garage, a California company that builds robots for research.  Specifically, the team built the EL-E RFID application using Willow Garage’s PR2 robot as the “infrastructure”.  The partnership was featured this past October on CNN’s The Big I show.  The video here shows Charles Kemp and Travis Deyle from the research team demonstrating it for CNN’s Ali Velshi.

When you watch the PR2 in action with the Georgia Tech/Duke team’s application driving it, you can start to think about eventually having your own “Rosie” to make your lives easier.  Now all this robot needs is a New Jersey accent.

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