RFID Asset Tags from IT to IVs

Texas Tech Health Sciences Center uses RFID to manage over 1,500 medical assets

The Challenge

Medical environments are filled with mobile assets; keeping track of the specialized equipment is vital to safe, efficient work. This is especially true for the Advanced Teaching and Assessment in Clinical Simulation Center (ATACS) at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso, Texas. The 13,000-square-foot state-of-the-art research and teaching facility provides students, trainees, and physicians a venue for medical scholarship and research. Their inventory contains over 1,500 diverse assets – laptops, projectors, stethoscopes, mannequins, skeletons, IV pumps, EKGs and more. As the new Center was purchasing valuable medical equipment in the fall of 2008, they needed a system for inventory management and asset tracking. Their Technology team knew RFID was a proven technology for these roles, and Unit Manager J. Hector Aranda found Radiant RFID in Austin, Texas. Radiant specializes in active and passive RFID technologies for monitoring the movement of people and assets and has developed systems for evacuation management, access control and asset tracking.

The Solution

Radiant RFID's Virtual Asset Tracker solution is designed specifically for tracking and locating assets and allows the monitoring of all types of items. Using Radiant RFID's system to take inventory and track movement eliminates paper and manual inventory processes and provides confidence in inventory reporting. Inventory is taken periodically with a handheld computer that reads RFID tags and synchronizes with the Radiant VAT database.

Users simply scan a room by moving the handheld toward items being inventoried – no crawling under desks, climbing on ladders or opening cabinets to read numbers or find asset tag or bar code IDs. Of course, Aranda wasn't just concerned with periodic inventory. Fixed RFID readers were installed to allow staff to have a real time view of inventory and know if items are being removed from the premises. These readers were mounted above the ceiling tiles at key entry points. "We wanted something very customized," said Aranda.

"Radiant was asked to deliver something sophisticated and hidden. We wanted to make people comfortable in their work environment, keeping portals and other equipment out of the way." For the RFID tags at the center of the tracking and inventory solution, Radiant RFID turned to Metalcraft. The Iowa-based provider of durable identification products had supported other Radiant customers needing durable tags for demanding applications. Metalcraft delivered a standardized RFID asset tag for most of the items and additional designs, including hang tags, for hard-to-tag assets. "Metalcraft tags perform well on the 'non-traditional' items such as mannequins and medical equipment that were to be tracked," said Radiant RFID's Matthew Padon. "Additionally, we chose the Metalcraft tags because of the read ranges and performance needed for fixed readers."

When the system was installed in fall 2009, Aranda's team began applying RFID tags to existing items. "It took several months, doing a little bit every day," said Aranda. "We tagged about 400 in the first month and started with the things that everyone would like to have, like laptops." Tagging all assets and employing fixed readers allowed the Center to add Radiant RFID's asset movement notification. Aranda's team gets an email when an asset is removed, and the live inventory is updated to reflect the exit. "This was our first Virtual Asset Tracker customer utilizing both handheld and fixed readers with the notification module," said Padon. "This solution answers the question 'Where is that item?' in real time."

The Result

Today, the team tags new assets as they arrive at the Center, and they get an email whenever something leaves the ATACS Center. "Some items disappeared when we first moved in, but not anymore," said Aranda. "With this type of RFID system, items have a way of staying in place." The inventory data from Virtual Asset Tracker allows the Center to better manage existing inventory and lower expenditures. It now takes just a half-day to inventory a 20-page list of the facility's assets and the staff can print out custom reports including total inventory, missing items, and exceptions. "The University is now interested in expanding this system," said Aranda. "They can see the example and the benefits."