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Health care facilities have a unique set of challenges that can be solved with wireless networks. One problem in many hospitals is equipment inventory. For many reasons, mobile equipment like wheelchairs and infusion pumps get lost. To combat this problem, many hospitals have implemented a wireless inventory tracking system for equipment — and even for doctors and patients.
For equipment, passive tags, such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags are activated with a wand. Those scanning will know exactly what wheelchair they're scanning, which department it belongs to and who most recently used it, for example.
Active tag systems for patients and doctors have their own power supply and transmit their location to the wireless network. These can be Wi-Fi, infrared or ultrasonic, says O'Connor. The tag is usually placed on the patient's identification wristband and allows the patient more freedom to move around the hospital. "One key to getting patients well faster is getting them up sooner, but they still need to be monitored," he says. With patient tracking systems coupled with wireless telemetry, patients are able to visit the cafeteria or walk the hallways and still be accounted for. Tracking doctors is useful for auditing purposes and responding to patient calls.
Many hospitals, because of their size and the equipment within them, have afforded limited cell phone reception in the past. Even with reception, most hospitals asked people to refrain from using them so as to not disrupt sensitive medical equipment, says O'Connor. But the "No cell phones" signs are coming down in hospitals as medical equipment is finally able to be properly shielded from external signals, he says. Hospitals are embracing cell phone usage by carrying cellular signals through their distributed antenna systems to increase coverage. To be on the safe side, O'Connor still recommends barring cell use areas like ICU and operating rooms, but most hospitals now allow cellular use in all other areas, a gesture greatly appreciated by patients and visitors.
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