Author(s): Peter Bryer
An article in yesterday's RFID Journal covered the movement of bags of blood in the Mexican state of Veracruz. All sorts of things really are getting connected. Blood is getting bagged and radio frequency identification (RFID) tagged for accurate tracking from donor to hospital. Sensors on the blood bags even collect information about the temperature of the blood during storage to assure that the conditions have met requirements.
RFID tags and sensitive sensors are enabling an improvement in the quality of care, preventing bad blood from getting into the system or the wrong blood type into a patient. From vein to vein, blood is becoming well-tracked inventory, and it's a solid use scenario for the Internet of things. An increasing number of healthcare systems around the world are using real-time tracking systems to assure their blood is good blood. Barcodes are making way for wireless connectivity.
Real-time location systems (RTLSs) are becoming common across many industries, supporting extremely accurate and efficient inventory tracking. The systems are being implemented by everyone from big-box stores to mega online merchants to automate logistics in a fiercely competitive retail environment. In many ways, the current product pricing war is about optimizing the inventory of things. In healthcare, modern-day location systems are being seen as a potential solution to medicinal mistakes and personnel misallocations.
The dream to tag practically everything is curbed by component and system costs, limiting use of sensors to more expensive and sensitive assets such as imaging equipment, medicine carts, beds and blood bags to drive inventory and leasing efficiencies at the high end. Tracking also includes the real-time location of people, both personnel and patients. New babies are tagged with active RFID devices, for example — wireless wearables are essentially the first thing babies wear in life at many hospitals. They become part of inventory. Doctors and nurses are no longer paged; instead they are located. The ability of some facilities to geo-fence certain patients is improving security and safety. People are things too.
There's a big data angle to RTLS: the systems provide healthcare administrators the ability to correlate logistic variables to results with an amazing degree of accuracy and timeliness. Errors can be traced to the cause and swiftly corrected.
The return on investment is promising, but most hospital financial officers are still evaluating the use of RTLS. However, CCS Insight believes there are significant growth opportunities for system providers, implementers and component makers given the need to drive efficiencies in municipal and private healthcare systems across the globe. The connectivity technologies vary from system to system — some use RFID, others Wi-Fi or ZigBee, and some use a combination of several wireless technologies.
Indoor location positioning is an important trend in the likes of warehouses, malls and airports. Connecting people and machines to the supplies they need is enabling new levels of immediacy in healthcare. The logistics of life will be one of the more interesting use cases for the Internet of things.