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Ekahau real-time location asset tracking system

Gary Cordery
Head of Medical Equipment Management Services at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals
The Medical Equipment Management Services (MEMS) team at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals is in the process of implementing Ekahau wireless, real-time location asset tracking, throughout the hospital, and the response is “amazing”.
Gary Cordery, head of the team, believes other hospitals have covered a single department or building with the radiofrequency identification (RFI) tagging, but that Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals may be the first in the UK with a complete, campus-wide installation.
“If you do just one building, as soon as the equipment moves outside the framework then it’s not visible, which makes the system kind of redundant,” he said.
Mr Cordery recognised that the hospital would benefit significantly if the time it took nurses and the equipment team to locate equipment could be reduced.
He recalls his time working on a series of projects for which a continuous improvement team performed lean studies. As part of the lean studies, the team created spider diagrams that mapped people during the tasks of their job.
“One of the ones I was involved in was looking at the spider diagrams of people searching for equipment. It was as if somebody had drawn crayon all over the map because they kept going back and forth, trying to find and locate the equipment. We really needed a solution to correct that and improve efficiency.”
He continued: “From my department’s perspective, locating equipment which is due for maintenance can sometimes be a challenge. From the clinical perspective, the concept that nurses will be able to view a live map, track the movements of a piece of equipment and locate the nearest one means the equipment will get to the patient quicker.”
Ekahau’s appeal
Once the MEMS team at Basildon and Thurrock had decided to explore real-time location asset tracking, they quickly settled on Ekahau’s RFI beads.
“Trialling alternatives to the Ekahau system would have meant installation of some kind of hardware infrastructure on top of what we already had. The ultimate advantage of this system is that it is purely a software solution.”
Basildon and Thurrock began implementing the Ekahau RFI digital tagging project at the beginning of 2011. Implementation involved several stages, Mr Cordery said. 
First, the server was built with the Ekahau software and location engine; next, our IT department needed to configure its wireless network to communicate with the location engine; and finally, a contracted team that was employed as part of the package surveyed the signal strength of the wireless network throughout each room in the area to be covered by the real-time location system (RTLS). 
It is the strength of the wireless signal that reveals the location of individual tags, Mr Cordery explained.
Basildon and Thurrock’s IT department told the company tendering the business that it needed RFI tags to provide a RTLS for a specific area. The reseller then calculated how many tags were needed to cover the area, the number of days it would take to map the area and the software they would need.
“The last part is for my department to physically attach all 2000 RFID tags to our equipment. We’re currently half way through this process as we are incorporating the tagging into our continuous maintenance programme. In terms of surveying, we’ve surveyed about half of the campus.”
Ekahau provided initial training to Basildon and Thurrock’s MEMS team on implementing the RFI tags.
Mr Cordery said: “They worked closely with my team for deploying the first tags. They had to configure them and get them talking to the server. Since then, my team has implemented this phase.
“We envisage that in the future we will maintain small changes to the area ourselves. For example, if we knocked some walls down and the area needed to be re-surveyed, we’d do that ourselves.”
Ekahau is also providing ongoing support while the project continues.
“We have regular catch-ups with Ekahau and with the re-seller we purchased it from – the re-seller. That’s ongoing obviously as we are still mid-project.”
Once the implementation of the tags has been completed, Mr Cordery has a number of further, ambitious intentions for the RTLS.
To begin, the team plans to integrate the digital tagging system with the hospital’s equipment management database.
“We have a field on the database that says where all the equipment is located, so when they report it faulty that’s where they say it is,” said Mr Cordery. “But obviously everyone moves around a lot. So at the moment, that field often says where we last saw it – when we saw it a couple of months ago – not where it is now.“
The MEMS team has also put tags on hospital beds with the intention of linking them to the next bed management software programme, as the current one is due to be changed.
“There are two buttons on the tags,” explained Cordery. “We want to program the buttons to say the bed is occupied or the bed is clean and available.
“The clinical staff would hit one button to say the bed is occupied and has a patient in it and then, when the patient is discharged, the bed has to be stripped, cleaned and made ready for the next patient. Once that cycle’s finished, they can then push the button and say this bed is now available.”
Having the base technology of the RFI tags has given Gary and his team a platform to consider further improvements. They want to trial an innovative ‘solution’ to monitoring hand hygiene that Ekahau introduced in February 2011.
“They are linking the RFID badges – personal badges – up to the handwashing facilities so you will have an audit of when people wash their hands,” explained Mr Cordery. “That’s really important in the healthcare environment.”
The equipment team at Basildon and Thurrock plans to link the two technologies in the critical care environment, where they have one nurse per bed.
The type of illnesses treated in critical care and the presence of a sink next to every bed “lends itself perfectly” to the RFI tags, said Mr Cordery.
“It would be very easy to actually put the new handwashing soap dispensers in waters that will know that your badge has washed your hands,” he explained. 
“Before the project is finished, we would like to have at least a trial up and running so we could see whether this is feasible. It’s so new. We have a blank canvas at the moment, but the potential is amazing,” Mr Cordery enthuses.
Another attractive application of the RFI tags is for Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals’ MEMS team to use it for their lone work policy.
“You have situations where you have a member of staff in an area, maybe at night or at late shift, where they’re one of the few staff around,” said Mr Cordery. 
“If they’re wearing location badges, they have a pull tap cord on them. If you pull it, it sends a message to the system that there’s a safety alert.”
The list of applications of Ekahau’s RTLS demonstrate obvious advantages. But the best judge of the system – in many respects – is the response of the clinicians who use it. And Mr Cordery is confident that they are impressed.
“Everybody’s loved it,” he said. “My staff obviously love it for finding the equipment,” he said, “but the clinical staff that we’ve shown the demos to… the response has been amazing.”
He continued: “I always show it to them and say that it’s like the Harry Potter Marauder’s map – in the books and in the film. The map where you could see where all your fellow students are walking around Hogwarts.
“Everybody gets the concept and the simple technology straight away. You bring up a map and then show them that’s where your beds are, that’s where your infusion pumps are, this is where your nearest wheelchair is. Yeah – they love it.”