Imagine a pediatric clinic bustling with activity where nurses and physicians are constantly on the move between patient examination rooms and a centralized station where they record patient vitals. The majority of the medical devices being used to take measurements are fixed to one location. Interfacing with the equipment and then going to another location to record patient specific data involves a frustrating mix of re-authentication, context switching, and a lot of wasted time. There is a significant opportunity in this environment to streamline clinical workflows with an Internet of Things (IoT) approach using RFID, NFC, and mobile technologies integrated with the cloud.
Today, clinical staff move patients from room to room to access specific medical measurement devices. Once measurements are taken, they are recorded on a sticky note which is then taken back to a centralized terminal. The nurse then logs in to the patient record to enter the data and then logs out. In theory, HIPAA regulations require personnel to log back in when they need to add new data to a patient’s record. However, in practice, clinic staff tend to circumvent the rules to expedite workflows by either staying logged in or using an easy to remember, but non-secure password like “1234.”
Using Mobile Apps to Streamline Clinical Workflows
Office Practicum, a pediatrics Electronic Medical Records (EMR) software vendor, wanted to explore what a mobile user interface to their system would look like. The intent of the project was to assess the economics associated with moving nurses off their original system. The concept envisioned a mobile application that would enable a nurse to perform the task, enter the data at source, and stay logged in on the mobile device without requiring re-authentication. This in turn would help to prevent disruption in the current workflow.
Making a Right Angle Turn with IoT
Through the use of an ideation workshop, the development team began exploring potential mobile solutions and ended up with an Internet of Things based prototype that used RFID, NFC, and mobile technologies integrated with the cloud. The application development presented two main challenges:
- How to integrate fixed, non-internet enabled medical devices with a mobile app
- Develop a solution that did not use external pluggable devices into a mobile device. These types of devices are prone to failure due to wear and tear on the device connector, lack of or slow wireless connectivity, and battery life issues.
The prototype involved affixing an RFID tag to an Apple iPad and an NFC sensor and microcomputer to the medical device. Data is sent from a sensor to the mobile device wirelessly, and is added to a patient record without the nurse having to authenticate to the sensor station.
A rich mobile user interface was developed to improve the interaction with the fixed hardware. In essence, the team created an Internet of things based technology solution which connected back to Office Practicum’s cloud based practice management system.
Breathing New Life in to Legacy Devices with RFID & NFC
With the new prototype, Office Practicum was able to demonstrate a potential low cost solution that would improve the efficiency of the rooming process by eliminating extra login tasks, writing data on sticky notes, walking back to central terminals, and data entry. Further, hospitals would be able to avoid having to invest in locating desktop workstations next to all the assessment devices and could continue to get more value out of legacy medical devices by internet enabling them. In developing the prototype, potential opportunities for applications in other industries such as healthcare equipment tracking were brought to light.