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
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
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