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VA deploys millions of sensors to track, well, everything

HP picked to put in large tracking system

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs 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 been awarded the $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 its 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, as well as monitor the temperatures of supplies.

The VA believes the impact of RTLS technology on patient care can be "significant," and that it will improve the quality of patient safety and care and reduce asset management costs.

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 be 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 firm, said it's a small sum for the VA, which spends about $2 billion on IT contracting annually.

Debbie Elgot, the portfolio manager, RTLS Solutions in HP Enterprise Services, said the system, among other things, will enable faster locating of supplies. Some medical workers hoard supplies and stock more than they need because of fears they won't be able find a certain item when it's needed, she said.

Many suppliers are now shipping products with tags for use in RFID and Wi-Fi systems, Elgot said.

The initial deployment will focus on supplies and equipment, but 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, Elgot said.

The contract was initially awarded last year but there was a protest from another vendor and a stop-work order was imposed until the issue was resolved. The proposals were reevaluated and HP was again selected, according to a statement from the VA.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is [email protected].

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Read more about wireless networking in Computerworld's Wireless Networking Topic Center.


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