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Tracking System Helps Save Blood

A tracking system that can aid in the conservation of stored blood has been created at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

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Technology Developed at Wake Forest Baptist Helps Save Blood Through Real-Time Tracking of Blood Bank Coolers

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – July 28, 2011 – Human blood is a precious resource. Because stored blood has a very limited shelf life, keeping every available unit of it suitable for medical use is a crucial function at hospitals and other health care facilities – especially during supply shortages such as those currently being experienced in the Triad, other parts of North Carolina and numerous sections of the country.

A tracking system that can significantly aid in the successful conservation of stored blood has been developed and put into use at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

This new system employs Real Time Location System (RTLS) technology to track the location and elapsed time-in-use of the portable coolers that Wake Forest Baptist’s Blood Bank uses to transport blood and blood products to where they are needed throughout the hospital.

The system was created at Wake Forest Baptist by Ron Noel, a manager in Resource Management, and Mary Rose Jones, manager of the Blood Bank. It was launched at the hospital in August 2010.

Blood must be kept chilled, typically to between 1 and 6 degrees Celsius (33.8 to 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit), to be suitable for use in transfusions and other medical procedures. The carriers in which blood is transported from blood bank refrigerators to operating rooms and other hospital areas have cooling elements that are effective only for specific periods of time, generally between five and 10 hours. Any blood stored in a cooler beyond the specific effective time span is considered expired and must be destroyed, even if not used.

By tracking the location and elapsed time of coolers and electronically conveying that information to the appropriate personnel, the new system at Wake Forest Baptist allows staff members to retrieve coolers containing unused blood before their specified time expires, thus greatly reducing the possibility that unused blood may have to be destroyed.

“We use RTLS technology to track the location of wheelchairs, beds, and other mobile items,” said Noel, who manages Wake Forest Baptist’s receiving department. “We employed the RTLS system to track the coolers and added a timing function to alert the Blood Bank staff when the validated time is approaching.”

Employing proprietary RTLS tags affixed to the exteriors of portable coolers, the tracking system’s software displays each cooler’s status on a computer monitor. When a cooler’s status changes, the system changes the color of that cooler’s screen icon and automatically sends an email notice to designated addresses.

On the “status board” on the computer monitor, a green icon indicates that a cooler is ready for use. When a full cooler is removed from the blood bank, its icon changes to blue, its movement is tracked and a timing process is initiated. Fifteen minutes before the cooler reaches its effective time limit, its icon changes to yellow and an email is sent. If a cooler is still out when its effective time expires, the icon turns orange and another message is sent. Fifteen minutes past the cooler’s time limit, its icon changes to red and a final email notice goes out. When the cooler is returned and processed in the blood bank, the system resets its status to “ready for use.”

“Since adopting the RTLS system last August, the results have been outstanding. We have not lost one cooler in the Medical Center,” Jones said. “We also have reduced labor time – Blood Bank staff members no longer have to make multiple phone calls in trying to locate coolers – and realized considerable dollar savings.”

While designed to track blood coolers, the system also can be adapted for use by hospital food services, to monitor the temperature of items served to patients, and pharmacies, to ensure that time-sensitive medications are administered at the prescribed times.

A provisional application for a patent on the tracking system has been filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Noel and Jones are listed as the inventors; Wake Forest Baptist would be the holder of the patent.

The Office of Technology Asset Management (OTAM) at Wake Forest Baptist is working with Noel to form a company, Time Temp Trac, that will market the system to hospitals and other health care facilities. Wake Forest Baptist will have an equity share in the company.

Noel said there are plans to introduce the Time Temp Trac system to the hospital industry at the annual conference of the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management, to be held Aug. 8-10 in Boston.