Optimizing Hospital Processes
Hospitals are under increasing pressure to reduce costs. This means that they will need to use their resources even more efficiently in the future. Fraunhofer IIS has now developed a wireless system for locating medical equipment and blood products as well as for condition monitoring. The project, which is called »OPAL-Health«, makes managing medical equipment easier and improves the safety of transfusion procedures.
Getting a grip on the hospital routine
»OPAL-Health« makes it possible to continuously monitor and document the transport, storage and use of medical equipment such as portable ECG machines. The system which will be developed facilitates the management of medical equipment by helping to detect overcapacity, enabling simpler, more transparent cost assessment and streamlining administration and planning. In addition, it offers protection against theft and tampering.
»Smart Objects« - Self-organizing helpers
The system consists of what are known as »smart objects« – microelectronic modules which are able to gather and save information from their environment and communicate wirelessly. These abilities are based on Fraunhofer IIS’s s-net® technology for energy saving, wireless sensor networks.
The sensor nodes form a wireless network which organizes itself and constantly collects needed data such as location or temperature. The information is then transmitted to the hospital’s main informational system. By their innate intelligence the sensor nodes can also make decisions on-site without the central server which is particularly important when matching blood products to patients.
Integrated power supplies allow the smart objects to activate autonomously so they can e. g. alert critical conditions. They do not need to be activated by an RFID reader and also transmit using much less power. As a result, the electromagnetic field can be minimized, which prevents interference. This is particularly important if smart objects are attached to medical devices or used in their immediate vicinity.
This newly developed technology not only enables much more efficient equipment management, but also improves blood transfusion safety, as smart objects can be used to continuously monitor the temperature of blood products. If the cold chain is interrupted, the system will automatically raise an alert. Keeping a continuous record of the storage conditions of blood products also saves resources. Thanks to this new technology, unused blood products which would currently have to be discarded because the cold chain is not reliably recorded will be safe to use in the future. »OPAL-Health« also minimizes the risk of mix-ups.
Trial Run at Erlangen University Hospital
The system can be seamlessly integrated into a hospital’s information systems, which makes it possible to reuse and analyze the data for other purposes, for instance more efficient stock management. Since 2010 the system is being tested in the context of actual day-to-day processes at Erlangen University Hospital.
The »OPAL-Health« project is directed by T-Systems. The project partners – namely the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS; the Fraunhofer Center Supply Chain Services SCS; Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nuremberg; Vierling Communications and Delta-T – are working together on a basic technology for a wide range of applications geared towards optimizing hospital processes.
»OPAL-Health« is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology as part of its “SimoBIT” program, which is aimed at developing secure mobile IT applications that help medium-sized companies and public agencies to maximize value creation.