- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Dakotas-based Sanford Health is spending $30 million on a system to track every patient, employee and piece of hospital equipment in its system.

Patient wristbands and employee badges soon will include a chip that will communicate with the tracking system by sensors mounted on walls in rooms and hallways. Equipment such as gurneys, wheelchairs, surgical devices and intravenous pumps will be tagged for instant tracking. The tracking also will allow a hospital or clinic encountering an infection to backtrack and determine which equipment and people were exposed.

The software is from Intelligent InSites, a Fargo, N.D., business that has designed tracking systems for 70 customers in 150 locations.

“Having a strong strategic partnership with another visionary organization that shares our goal of driving high-impact innovations in health care delivery is great,” Intelligent InSites Chairman and CEO Doug Burgum said in a statement.

Sanford will phase in the technology within five years, starting with a new clinic in Moorhead, Minn., that is scheduled to open Monday. Installation is scheduled at hospitals in Sioux Falls and Fargo, the two cities where Sanford is based, over the next several months. The technology eventually will cover Sanford’s nine-state 126-city network. Sanford bills itself as the nation’s largest not-for-profit rural health care provider.

“This is all about improving the experience not only for our patients but also our own employees,” Nate White, Sanford’s chief operating officer, said in a statement.

The main thing patients will notice from being electronically monitored is better service, while employees will notice efficiency in their work, Paul Hanson, president of the Sanford Medical Center in Sioux Falls, told the Argus Leader newspaper.

“I think we’d be surprised that there are a lot of things that get misplaced, not necessarily lost, but misplaced from one department to the other,” he said. “It sounds simple, but in a complex environment like a medical center, sometimes simple things get lost.”

The new system will give someone checking in a tag with key code access to a patient room. He or she will go straight to that room.

“Today, the typical experience in a clinic is … you go sit in a waiting room with everyone else until a nurse comes out and yells your name in front of everyone,” Burgum told the Argus Leader. “What’s wrong with that? A, you have a waiting room. B, you have a nurse doing non-value-added work. C, you have patients who are sick all waiting in one room.”