VA to wirelessly track hospital equipment

The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a contract valued at as much as $543 million to Hewlett-Packard for a wireless system to track hospital equipment. HP beat out five other vendors, including IBM, for the contract.

The VA plans to equip its 152 medical centers with the monitoring systems, which would locate equipment within a range of 1 meter and track whether devices are properly sterilized, according to Bloomberg News. The Government Accounting Office cited the problem of dirty and unsafe medical tools and equipment in a report last year, as FierceHealthIT reported. It said too often wheelchairs, surgical tools and other equipment are dirty and staff inadequately trained on disinfection procedures to prevent infections.

The system also would identify patients that may have received medical products later recalled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Bloomberg reports.

The VA also wants to track patients and staff, based on ID bracelets and badges, to improve workflow, as well as monitor how often staff wash their hands, according to the article. However, unions representing the VA's 250,000 employees have raised objections to tracking staff.

Josephine Schuda, a VA spokeswoman, told Nextgov in December there are no plans to track staff, though the new contract allows the VA to "buy technology that will allow a wide range of capabilities for use over five years."

Bloomberg says the VA will track staff only with union approval, which doesn't sound likely.

The VA system is to tap into hospitals' Wi-Fi networks, augmented with ultrasound and infrared technology. Mary-Jean Burke, first executive vice president of the America Federation of Government Employees National Veterans Affairs Council, also told Nextgov that in her experience real-time location systems (RTLS) are ineffective because of radio interference.

Yet use of RLTS systems is growing. The global market for hardware, software and services tied to wireless asset-tracking and real-time location technology may double to $1.6 billion by 2016, according to Drew Nathanson, a vice president at VDC Research Group. The Navy, too, wants to deploy RTLS at its facilities.

An estimated 10 to 15 percent of hospitals are using RTLS, with 95 percent reporting efficiency gains, according to a survey by KLAS Research. 

To learn more:
- read the Bloomberg story
- here's the Nextgov article

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