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Far From Child's Play

May 29, 2008
by Kate Huvane
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Hospitals are leveraging wireless technologies to ensure that babies and mothers never lose touch.

David selman

David Selman

Like many areas of hospital management, infant security has changed drastically over the years. The measures that are being taken to protect infants from abductions have grown by leaps and bounds thanks to the evolution in the technologies used to monitor security. As these systems have expanded, the responsibilities that were once allocated mainly to security departments are now being shared by security, facilities, clinicians, and, of course, the IT department.

A number of facilities have implemented tagging systems that integrate with wireless systems by incorporating RFID technology to provide enhanced security. Unlike previous models, these systems are part of a larger, hospital-wide effort rather than being isolated to one or two departments.

“We view the system as simply another extension of the technology that is in play to ensure the safety and security not only of our employees and staff, but of our patients and of our visitors,” says David Selman, CIO at ProMedica Health System, a 10-hospital organization serving patients in northwest and west central Ohio and southeast Michigan. Four of its facilities have implemented the Hugs infant protection system from Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Innovative Medical Systems, Inc., a partner of the Verichip Corporation (Delray Beach, Fla.).

Hugs is one of a few systems available on the market that work to prevent instances like abductions and switching of infants, with the latter occurring far more frequently. According to Jeff Aldridge, founder of the Durham, N.C.-based Security Assessments International consulting firm, around 250 infant abductions have been reported since 1983, while there are an estimated 23,400 mix-ups in the United States every year.

They may not be the kind of numbers that would cause a hospital administrator to hit the panic button, but for Mark McMath, CIO of Bloomington Hospital (Bloomington, Ind.), statistics are irrelevant in cases like this.

“The challenge with infant abductions is one is too many,” he says. The decision to implement the Hugs and Kisses systems, by Ontario's Xmark Corporation, wasn't driven by a specific incident, but rather as a preventative step. “We wanted to be proactive.”

Along with the risk management component, the systems can also assist facilities in complying with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) Environment of Care standards (see sidebar).

Getting wired with security

McMath was able to address security and compliance concerns when the Regional Center for Women and Children, part of the 355-bed Bloomington Hospital organization, installed the Hugs and Kisses tagging systems in 2006. With the Hugs technology, if an infant is taken out of an authorized area or if the tag is broken or removed, an alert is immediately sent to the hospital staff, whereas the Kisses function works by sounding a soft beep to signify that a mother is matched up with the correct baby.

According to McMath, infants are banded following delivery with a soft bracelet which is automatically entered into the facility's computer system. A screen then pops up immediately on the computer indicating that the tag has been activated, at which point the clinician enters the mother and infant data into the system.

When an infant is transported within the maternity wing, an alert is transmitted to the computer by the local area receivers that are installed throughout monitored areas of the facility, enabling the staff to identify and track an infant's precise location. As the data moves through the internal processes within a unit, the information is time-stamped on the controller for that network, which is connected back to the master network. If a person who is carrying an infant approaches an exit (which is outside of the authorized zone), the system locks down the doors and renders the elevator inoperable, says McMath.

According to Selman, when the alarm is activated, several components of the facility are shut down by zone. The system, which controls the door monitoring device, will close any open door by releasing a magnet, and will lock the door via an electronic signal sent through the unit-based device. If at any time the wristband is broken or tampered with, the circuit that goes around the band will be disrupted and the wireless network will identify the potential breach, he says.

Although Bloomington and ProMedica utilize similar protection systems, they differ as to network preferences. Toledo Hospital (the ProMedica facility that most recently implemented Hugs) operates on a separate secure 802.11 network, while Bloomington's system utilizes its own RF frequency.

Aldridge, who has conducted numerous threat assessments and vulnerability evaluations of maternity units, recommends that facilities operate on separate LANs in order to avoid having the system go down during periodic updates.

System integration

One key advantage of the Hugs security system is the fact that the technology is not confined to the infant care unit. The presence of a shared infrastructure at facilities like Bloomington and ProMedica enables integration into other departments where security threats exist, including the pediatrics unit, which Aldridge says is an area that may soon face stricter JCAHO standards for protection against abductions.

“Each year, they add more and more locations in the hospital that qualify as sensitive locations that need a higher level of security than the standard area,” says Aldridge, who identifies psychiatric and senior care units as areas that can benefit from heightened security, as well as the emergency department.