January 18, 2013, 7:08 AM — WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has begun installing millions of sensors on just about anything that costs more than $50. The technology will be used to track medical equipment, supplies, specimens and implants -- and eventually, medical personnel and patients.
Hewlett-Packard on Thursday said it had received a $543 million, five-year contract to begin deploying Real-Time Location System (RTLS) technology throughout VA facilities nationwide. RTLS is an umbrella term for a range of wireless and scanning technologies that include Wi-Fi-based location tracking, as well as RFID tags.
This system is intended to make the VA more efficient in how it uses supplies, manages inventory and delivers services to patients. It will be able to send alerts if equipment is moved outside a designated area, or if a patient has moved into a restricted area. It can also monitor the temperatures of supplies.
The VA believes the impact of RTLS technology on patient care can be "significant" and said it will improve the quality of patient care, reduce asset management cost and improve safety.
With RTLS, the VA will also be able to help determine, for instance, whether equipment has been sterilized after use, or how long it has been waiting to cleaned, according to one of the procurement documents.
Although the contract is big, Ray Bjorklund, vice president and chief knowledge officer at Deltek, a market research firms, said it's a small amount for the VA. The VA spends about $2 billion on IT contracts annually, he said.
Debbie Elgot, the portfolio manager for RTLS Solutions in HP Enterprise Services, said the system will also enable faster locating of supplies. Some medical staffers now hoard supplies and stock more than a really need because of fears of they won't be able find them when needed, she said.
Many suppliers are now shipping products with tags for use in RFDI and Wi-Fi systems, said Elgot.
The initial deployment will only focus on supplies and equipment, not people.
A big part of the contract will be discovering new ways to use the massive amount of data to improve workflow and operations, said Elgot.
The contract was initially awarded last year, but there was a protest about the move and stop-work issues. The proposals were reevaluated and HP was again selected, according to a statement from the VA.