Asset Tracking

One Million Medical Assets Tracked in the United Arab Emirates

Mega Rollout: 147 healthcare facilities have integrated an RFID solution to locate and inventory devices

From non-transparent processes to one of the world's largest Asset Management Applications in 2 years.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is responsible for the majority of the health care facilities and the associated administration and logistics sites. The Ministry has noted increasing inefficiencies in asset management. Time losses, higher workloads, rising costs, and limited transparency were the result.

In order to remedy these shortcomings, the Ministry commissioned the development and integration of a UHF RFID-based solution. The current rollout started at the beginning of 2020. The implementation at almost 150 individual locations in seven countries is one of the most extensive RFID integrations in this sector worldwide.

Maged Mourad, General Manager RFID-Systems, OGTech in an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global.

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12,500 Hospital Beds for 10.5 Million Inhabitants

In the seven states of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) there are more than 12,500 hospital beds available for around 10.5 million inhabitants. The largest hospital in the UAE is Sheikh Shakbout Medical City, which opened in November 2019 and covers 300,000 square meters with 723 beds. Each state has a few facilities either of its own or privately run. The majority of health care facilities are centrally operated and controlled by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention.

Asset Management in 147 Healthcare Facilities

The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention had an RFID-based asset tracking and management solution integrated into a total of 147 public health facilities by spring 2020. The solution includes tagging over one million assets in hospitals, day clinics, health centers, warehouses and administrative buildings. The range of assets tagged includes medical devices, IT equipment, furniture and technical building equipment.

Going Live at the End of 2019 in the 10 Largest Facilities

In autumn 2019, the solution was put into operation in the ten largest healthcare facilities. The go-live followed a pilot phase, which was won by system integrator OGTech in August of that year following a public tender at the beginning of 2018. For the pilot phase, OGTech's team integrated 350,000 UHF RFID tags, 17 UHF RFID handhelds and ten UHF RFID label printers.

"The tests under live conditions achieved the planned results, so that the rollout could be started step by step – initially in 10 healthcare facilities," reports Maged Mourad.

Next Step: RFID-Based Medication Management

As a next step, the Ministry of Health and Prevention plans to extend the use of RFID to drugs and medicines.

"The ministry hopes that tagging packaging, vials and drug containers will provide transparent insight into the expiry dates of drugs. The localization of drugs is just as important as being able to provide early information when products need to be refi lled. Another aspect is tracking drugs to prevent them from going missing," says Maged Mourad, describing the requirements in the pharmaceutical sector of healthcare facilities.

Thousands of Assets per Location – Indoors and Outdoors

Each institution under the authority of the Ministry of Health and Prevention must manage from a few hundred to several thousands of assets, depending on the size of the institution. The management of these assets has three objectives. First, it is essential that medical equipment in hospitals and treatment centers can be located quickly when it is needed to treat patients. Secondly, regular inventories must be carried out. Since assets are sometimes loaned out between facilities, manual recording and documentation of each individual item rapidly reaches its limits in terms of time.

As a result, inventories have not been performed with the required frequency. The third objective is the automation of maintenance management. Electrical and mechanical components in particular must be subjected to regular functional tests. Locating and precisely identifying each of these assets to be maintained ensures smooth operation in the facilities.

"Maintenance is by no means limited to medical equipment such as infusion pumps or ventilators. The function of the building technology must also be secured. Many of the tagged assets are located outside, such as surveillance cameras, generators or parts of the air conditioning system," reports Maged Mourad. When developing the tagging solution for outdoor applications, it had to be taken into account that maximum daily temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the shade.

First the Software, Then the Hardware

The development objectives for the software related integration of the asset management solution were the complete integration into the existing Microsoft ERP of the Ministry of Health and Prevention. At the same time, the user interface needed to be designed to be as user-friendly as possible to keep the administrative workload for employees as low as possible.

"Together with the Ministry of Health and Prevention's IT team, we worked on ways to integrate each date of the tagged devices into the ERP without creating duplications between the numerous interfaces of the individual facilities," says Maged Mourad. The software development and integration into the existing ERP was completed at the end of 2018. Tagging of the assets started afterwards.

"Each object was tagged and then updated in the asset management software, including master data, maintenance history and the linked tag ID."

Flexible Hardware Integration for Maximum Output

While the pilot phase and initial rollout in ten facilities included the provision of handhelds for capturing tagged objects, today, a mix of mobile and fixed reader technology is used.

UHF RFID Handhelds are the Central Interface

Tagged assets are mainly captured via UHF RFID handhelds. Inventories and audits can be carried out by employees in a significantly reduced time for specific rooms. "From the beginning of the test phase, we have trained the facility personnel in the handling of the hardware used. The handhelds allow the greatest possible flexibility – from locating individual assets to routine full inventories," explains Maged Mourad.

Reader Gates at All Entrances and Exits

Permanently installed long-range UHF readers and antennas from Feig Electronic implemented as gates are part of the second rollout phase. "After the functionality was tested and proven in the proof-of-concept with UHF RFID handhelds, the requirement was to integrate fixed reading points. The acquisition of tagged objects at entrances, transitions, and exits supports the exact localization of the mobile assets.

This function is particularly important for locating medical devices and objects that are constantly needed, such as beds or wheelchairs. Some of these assets also circulate between different facilities or are loaned out for specific periods of time. Accurate documentation of movement is essential for management," says Maged Mourad.

Wide Spectrum of Tags and Labels Specified

The majority of the more than one million tags are UHF RFID labels from Smartrac. "The labels are used on all objects that do not pose a particular challenge to the tags. This includes furniture and other furnishings. For objects made of metal we use special on-metal tags. All assets that are integrated into the asset management solutions in the outside area of the healthcare facilities also require special transponders that can permanently withstand the high temperatures and solar radiation," explains Maged Mourad.

The tags are placed in the most discreet places on the assets so as not to interfere with the visual appearance of furniture and other furnishings. “Tagging is subject to the condition that the tags are only placed visibly in exceptional cases, but are always readable from a range of at least five meters.”

Printers Simplify On-Site Asset Integration

Today, RFID label printers from Zebra Technologies are used in all larger facilities. The printers offer the possibility of integrating new assets into the management solution in a timely manner. "Employees can encode labels directly on-site and in this way easily label new assets and enter the ID into the management software via handheld," reports Maged Mourad

Maged Mourad: “For the pilot phase, OGTech's team integrated 350,000 UHF RFID tags, 17 UHF RFID handhelds and ten UHF RFID label printers. The tests under live conditions achieved the planned results, allowing the rollout to be started in stages, beginning with ten health care facilities. As a next step, the Ministry of Health and Prevention plans to extend the use of RFID to drugs and medicines. The ministry hopes that tagging packaging, vials and drug containers will provide transparent insight into the expiry dates of drugs. The localization of drugs is just as important as being able to provide early information when products need to be refilled.”

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