In these days of mobile clinical computing, it's not enough to protect the information in the electronic health record. Hospitals also have to protect the ever smaller gadgets their clinicians use to access information. Curt Kwak, regional CIO for 26-hospital Providence Health, Renton, Wash., uses radio-frequency ID tags from Aeroscout, Redwood City, Calif., to track 900 tablet computers that clinicians use to access the EHR in three Washington State hospitals he oversees. The tag triggers an alarm if the tablet leaves its assigned area, revealing the location of tablets in range of the hospital's wi-fi network. Kwak is studying extending the tags to intravenous pumps, wheelchairs and other all-too-portable biomedical equipment.

On Leveraging Resources


It was a no-brainer to implement an RFID tracking system because we already had a wireless network infrastructure in place. There were significant cost savings from being able to leverage what we had. But you need to do an RF analysis to make sure the capacity is there to support these tags.

On Centralization


On the nursing floors, each patient room has a tablet, and in open areas like the ER they're specific to the department. We can set a perimeter for each one, and if the device crosses it, an alarm is sent to whatever pager we've designated for that particular device. Right now the alarm goes to someone in the department, but we're looking at sending them all to a central location, because sometimes pager batteries run low.

On ROI


We spent about $300,000 to get the initial infrastructure up, and I think we've already gotten our money's worth out of it. We did a number of analyses to establish the value associated with both data theft and device theft. If we extend it to biomedical devices, I think we'll see a very quick return.

On Technological Change


The rate of technological change hasn't been that bad. We've gotten new software, but the tags themselves and the method of tracking haven't changed since the day of implementation. Now we're looking at tablets that have real-time tracking tags built in. The tracking can't be part of the wireless card, because you lose the signal if you turn off the device, and the external tags are the size of a matchbox, so they're pretty inconvenient. On the limitations of technology Wi-fi is great horizontally, but it's not so vertically savvy. If you look at the locator map, you can't always tell if a device is on the first, second or third floor. It's a problem when your bed tower has 12 floors. That has been a thorn in my side.
THE KWAK FILE

  • B.S. Mechanical Engineering and MBA, University of Washington, Seattle
  • Six Sigma Black Belt
  • Oversees annual operating budget of $28 million and annual capital budget of $410 million

This article can also be found on HealthDataManagement.com.

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