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Tracking system promises to reduce medical errors

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A UK hospital is tagging patients with Wi-Fi transmitters and tracking their movements with a wireless network in a bid to reduce medical errors and reduce litigation costs. When patients arrive for an operation at the Heartlands Hospital in the Midlands, they will be snapped with a digital camera and tagged with a transmitter. The picture and transmitter details will then be paired with their electronic record.

Although the hospital and the companies behind the system insist that this wireless tracking system is a world first, it is not the only outbreak of patient tagging. The Jacobi Medical Centre in New York recently started tagging patients with RFID chips to speed identification, while in Mexico City, Authorities took to chipping Alzheimer patients.

Normally we at El Reg delight in such deployments of cutting-edge technology but we must confess to a certain fondness for the time-honoured practice of sticking someone's name on a bit of "paper" and pinning it to their chest. The data can easily be read using the "eyeball" device, and as a second, failsafe method of identification, the revolutionary facial recognition system known as "brain" can be engaged.

However, this age-old technology has its problems, as David Morgan, an Ear Nose and Throat consultant at the hospital explains: "Our current paper process is error prone, technology is available now which can help reduce human error and improve Operating Room theatre efficiency. These improved efficiencies translate into saving more lives, reducing costs and significantly improving the patient experience."

He can now locate a patient to within yards using the tracking system, and can update the operating list while he makes his rounds, rather than dealing with a typed list. Similarly, patient data can be routed to the room they are in without having to send a person with the right records.

Heartlands Hospital has paid £25,000 to install the system in two operating rooms and one ward. ®

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