Birmingham Heartlands RFID-tags patients to avoid litigation

Birmingham Heartlands Hospital has become the first NHS hospital to radio-tag patients. The hospital has installed a radio tracking system throughout the hospital and can find and identify patients using standard radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags.

The announcement comes just weeks after the US Food and Drugs Administration controversially gave approval to implantable radio tags, previously only used on prisoners in California. The FDA's approval brought widespread protests from civil rights groups. The Birmingham radio-tagging will involve standard wrist tags on patients.
The developer of the Birmingham Heartlands system, British firm Intelligent Medical Microsystems, claims that the installation is the first tracking system that has been installed anywhere to "mistake-proof" medical procedures, such as surgery, through passive decision-support technology.

The Hospital is currently running a pilot of the technology on patients undergoing ear, nose and throat surgery. The aim of the system is to make sure surgeons carry out the right procedures on the right patients every time. The Hospital will also use the system to ensure patients are given the right prescriptions and to identify patients with infections such as MRSA to help stop the infection spreading.

Patients are tagged on arrival. Photographs are taken of them and digitised into an electronic record. A wireless network tracks each patient and brings up his/her record at key points within the hospital, such as the operating theatre. The photograph allows the clinical team to confirm they have the right patient, and the electronic record ensures they perform the correct procedure.

The Birmingham system uses standard WiFi network technology. Surgeons on their rounds can also use the system with a PDA. As he/she moves from bed to bed, the electronic record automatically pops up on his/her handheld.

The Birmingham system was devised by a consultant ENT surgeon at the hospital, Mr David Morgan, who set up Intelligent Medical Microsystems to develop the technology: "I came up with the idea after realising the inefficiency and risk of problems with the old, paper-based, system. Operation lists can change up to three times a day and each time a list is changed there is a chance that paperwork is not updated correctly, so surgeons can go into theatre with the wrong documents."

According to Mr Morgan, the new system should prevent errors in the operating theatre and avoid the threat of subsequent litigation: "Litigation costs are starving the NHS of funds. Our current paper process is error prone, technology is available now that can help reduce human error and improve operating theatre efficiency." Mr Morgan reckons that radio tagging could make the operating theatre safer and more efficient: "Patients want reassurance both that the operation will go well and that everything possible is being done to protect their safety. The improved efficiencies translate into saving more lives, reducing costs and significantly improving the patient experience."
Birmingham Heartlands is part of the Birmingham Heartlands and Solihull Trust, one of the largest acute trusts in the UK. The Trust has around 1,300 beds and sees over half a million patients a year.
The system has so far been installed in one ward and two theatres at Birmingham Heartlands at a cost of £25,000. It has been financed by the developers, Intelligent Medical Microsystems and Coventry-based Daconi Wireless. The developers used positioning software from US company Ekahau, which was integrated into Daconi's WiSec middleware. Confidentiality of patients' data over a wireless network is maintained by the Daconi software.
15 February 2005


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