Navy Puts RFID Into Service - InformationWeek

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04:09 PM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Navy Puts RFID Into Service

Doctors and nurses at Iraq Military Hospital use the technology to track and treat patients

While retailers and distributors mull the use of radio-frequency identification chips to track products in their stores and supply chains, the U.S. Navy is already using them to track something far more precious: human lives.

The Navy's Tactical Medical Coordination System, dubbed TacMedCS, helps simplify hospital administration, reduce errors, and provide better medical care.

Each patient admitted into the Navy's Fleet Hospital Three in Iraq is tagged with an RFID-enabled wristband. The patients, who can range from U.S. military personnel to prisoners of war to refugees, are given unique ID numbers for the duration of their treatment. Doctors and nurses use a handheld RFID reader to scan the bracelet to confirm identity and enter information on diagnoses, treatments, and status into a central data system.

TacMedCS replaces labor-intensive pen-and-paper data entry, which relied on white boards and cardboard tags to track patients. "Today on the battlefield, information is being collected using Civil War technology, pencil and paper," says Brian Jones, VP of ScenPro Inc., which designed the software that runs the system. TacMedCS also includes RFID tags from Texas Instruments, "smart bands" from Precision Dynamics, and handheld RFID readers from A.C.C. Systems.

As a result of the implementation in Fleet Hospital Three, the Navy has been able to keep important information with patients, track their location automatically, and keep closer track of their treatment, all of which has allowed it to improve the quality of medical care.

RFID wristband

The Navy tags patients at an Iraq military hospital with RFID-enabled bracelets to confirm identities and track diagnoses and treatment plans in a central database.
Medics use the tags on the battlefield to identify the wounded before they're sent to the hospital. Doctors behind the lines are then able to access the TacMedCS database and plan in advance what treatment and surgery they'll need to perform when patients arrive. "It helps the commanders understand how many casualties are in the field," says Bob Williams, senior knowledge analyst for ScenPro. "Then they can get that info back to the people who need it."

In addition, since better medical records are being kept, doctors in the United States are able to examine the data carefully to determine if soldiers are suffering common injuries, then try to find ways to prevent that. It also provides a way for researchers to link up to larger health databases and try to understand medical phenomena such as the Gulf War syndrome.

Similar RFID systems also are being used in U.S. civilian hospitals to track patients who require constant monitoring, such as newborn babies, says Frost & Sullivan analyst Deepak Shetty. There's been hesitation to deploy them widely because of fears over the reliability of the hardware and potential radio interference with other devices, he says. But the success of systems such as TacMedCS is likely to change that, and RFID should soon become commonplace in medical applications.

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