University of Iowa Hospitals help develop blood tracking

RFID tags monitor where blood units are in the hospital

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A new blood bag tracking device cleared by the Food and Drug Administration to enhance blood safety was developed in part due to existing technology at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

The system is called iTrace for Blood Centers, and it uses radio frequency identification technology — commonly called RFID. The blood tracking device was cleared by the FDA on Tuesday.

The new technology electronically tracks where blood is in the hospital, explained Dr. Thomas Raife, medical director of the university's DeGowin Blood Center. The computer servers know where the blood is, who it has been issued to or if it can be sent back to the blood bank, for example, Raife said.

The RFID prototype system is based on UI Hospitals's IPR bar code patient identification system. For the past five or six years, UI Hospitals have had a "bar code-based state of the art system for tracking blood products within the hospital," Raife said.

"Using bar codes on blood bags and on patient samples and on wristbands on patients and on order forms, it allows us to track blood from the blood bank shelf all the way to the patient's bedside," he said. "A huge benefit of that is that it eliminates human error in the identification of patients which is a key thing in terms of blood transfusion safety."

Another major advantage of the system is the ability to update the RFID tag. Once a traditional bar code has been printed, it cannot be altered without printing a new one, Raife noted.

Because the university has the bar code-based technology, the hospital system was a part of a consortium working on the RFID enabled approach to blood safety, Raife said.

The first phase of the consortium's project had to do with exploring the use of bar code tracking in blood donor centers.

"The next phase they wanted to work on was how can we use this system in the hospital setting," Raife said. "That's where the UIHC participated in the hospital-based pilot of the system."

The pilot project was done in the spring of 2012.

Raife said hospital officials intend for the technology to eventually be available at its facilities.

Other participants in the consortium are the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Carter BloodCare, Mississippi Baptist Health System, the University of Wisconsin Madison's RFID Laboratory, Lenexa, Kan.-based Mediware Corp., Brookfield, Wis.-based SysLogic and S3Edge.

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