Published in RFID Journal, by Claire Swedberg

When the Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute (FCS) combined three of its Tampa clinics into a single facility this year, to provide medical practices, radiation treatment and radiology, it wanted the new, larger, 36,000-square-foot site to maintain the feeling of smaller clinics. That meant each of the more than 400 patients treated daily at the facility should feel confident that he or she would be seen quickly and never be overlooked.

The clinic offers doctor visits, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and other oncology services under a single roof. But administrators wanted to implement a system that would improve efficiency and increase patient comfort, says Julio Lautersztain, an FCS doctor who acted as a liaison between the physicians, the IT department and technology providers, The aim was to ensure that each patient is received and treated within a short span of time, and that he or she never feels overlooked. “We wanted to treat a large number of patients,” he explains, “but get away from a hospital-like setting.”

FCS looked into a variety of technology solutions and met with Vizzia Technologies, a Georgia-based process-improvement company that provides its Vizzion Suite software for managing RFID and real-time location system (RTLS) implementations, as well as RFID and RTLS hardware from numerous vendors. The solution that the firm ultimately selected included Vizzion Suite software and CenTrak‘s hybrid Gen2IR and RFID tags, IR monitors, virtual walls and RFID readers (which CenTrak calls “wireless network devices”). The clinic chose CenTrak’s technology to obtain room-level accuracy throughout its clinic, as well as Vizzia software to determine how long a patient has remained at a particular location, and if (and for how long) he or she was seen by a physician or nurse.

In addition, the software provides medical assistants with visibility into when a specific examination room is free and ready for use by a new patient. Finally, analytics derived from the data that the solution provides helps the clinic to better manage the scheduling and flow of patients, based on historic data.

“Our core competency is process improvement,” says Andrew Halasz, Vizzia Technologies’ president and co-founder. “RTLS is our eyesight,” he says, noting that the software provides the rules and analytics to help users manage data. “Our software and services convert the location and interaction data into process-improvement actions our customers can take to improve their operations.”

With the system in place, a patient, upon arrival, presents a card printed with an ID number, which a staff member enters into the Vizzion Suite software. The software is integrated with the clinic’s electronic health records system, according to Samantha Watkins, the FCS director responsible for managing daily operations at five clinics within a region that includes Tampa and the surrounding Hillsborough County. The software pulls up the card’s ID (linked to that patient’s profile), and a staff member scans the bar-coded serial number printed on the front of the CenTrak tag, linking the tag ID number with that patient’s ID. The tag is handed to the patient, who can then wear it either on a lanyard or clipped to clothing. The tag transmits its unique ID number, via active 900 MHz RFID, to readers installed throughout the facility.

CenTrak Gen2IR monitors were installed on the ceiling within each of the 33 exam rooms, as well as in larger multi-patient rooms—such as a chemotherapy room broken into pods—with virtual walls to identify a specific pod within the room. The Gen2IR monitors, which are approximately the size and shape of a smoke detector, are powered by batteries. Each monitor transmits its ID number via an infrared (IR) signal that fills a room. The tag‘s built-in IR sensor receives the monitor’s ID and transmits that information, along with its own unique identifier, to the nearest RFID reader. The reader forwards that data to the server, via a cabled connection, where Vizzion Suite software determines the room—or the specific spot within that room—in which the tag is located. To provide more granular data, Vizzia also installed CenTrak Virtual Wall monitors, which emit a unique IR signal that covers a limited area, such as around a treatment area or hallway between two examination rooms.

Physicians and nurses also wear the badges, thereby enabling the software to track how long a particular patient awaited treatment before a health-care provider visited his or her examining room. It also enables staff members to find colleagues in real time. For example, if a patient calls for a specific physician via telephone, personnel can view in which room that doctor is located at that moment, thus ensuring that they not disturb multiple patients in an effort to find that physician.

The analytics provided by the solution to date have helped the clinic identify areas in which improvement may be necessary, Watkins reports. By analyzing the collected data, she says, the facility knows which personnel tend to run behind in their schedules, allowing FCS to share detailed data with those staff members in order to better educate them. This helps the clinic determine when patients spend excessive amounts of time waiting to see health-care providers, and also enables more effective scheduling based on the times of day, or the specific days, on which work typically becomes backed up.

The greatest challenge, Watkins says, involved explaining the technology to patients so that they understood why they were being tracked. However, she notes, the patients responded well to the technology once they understood it. “I would say the technology definitely enhances the entire patient flow,” she states. The Florida Cancer Specialists and Research Institute is now evaluating whether the solution would benefit some of its other clinics, of which there are more than 60 throughout the state.

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