There's a reason we all grow up hearing stories like the "Prince and the Pauper." It’s the nightmare scenario, a fantastical terror: being switched at birth. But despite this kind of story's prevalence in popular culture, there's a reason we don't hear too many tales about it in real life.
Thankfully, hospitals never want it to happen to a family, and so many of them have been investing in technology to prevent the switched-at-birth scenario since the 1990s.
The tech that goes into keeping track of babies actually has its roots in another medical-safety device: trackers for elderly people, often with Alzheimer's or dementia, to prevent them from getting lost or wandering - a dangerous possibility for the elderly suffering from neurocognitive disorders
But regardless of who you're keeping track of, the stakes are high. So for preventing scary scenarios like abductions or just a bad fall for a grandmother alike, hospitals depend on unobtrusive monitors, sometimes on an ankle cuff or a bracelet, to construct the ultimate virtual safety net for everyone who passes through their doorways.
Healthcare sometimes gets a bad reputation for being slow on the technological uptake. The reason, of course, is that privacy laws and medical standards are more difficult to juggle than most industry regulations. But here's a case where hospitals saw technology and pretty quickly hopped on board. These days, it's standard practice for hospitals to have some kind of monitoring system in place to protect their most vulnerable patients.
"The stakes are high. So for preventing scary scenarios, hospitals depend on unobtrusive monitors, sometimes on an ankle cuff or a bracelet, to construct the ultimate virtual safety net for everyone who passes through their doorways."
The way it works: a single tag is attached to the device worn by the patient, whether it's an ankle tag or wristband. This tag, like an RFID - radio-frequency identification - tag has the ability to ping the hospital's alarm system if its wearer steps out of a safe boundary area. Should an elderly person wander somewhere unsafe or should someone pick up a baby and carry the child somewhere unauthorized, an alarm system would trigger fast action within the hospital, sending a nurse and security guard running instantly.
The system also works via matching, ensuring that a new mother and new baby have the same tags and guaranteeing via barcode scan that the wrong parent doesn’t sleepily pick up someone else's baby.
Keeping in mind HIPAA requirements, the systems don't publish data with names attached, and naturally, this isn't a connected system that's quite as interested in gathering information as it is in safety and security.
To make a system like this work when it first launched, one company came to Echelon to find a way to make internal devices communicate successfully with one another. This was well before the days of wireless as a standard, and so the monitors used the kind of industrial-strength low-bandwidth monitoring and communication standards that could keep a system like this going in a busy, crowded place like a hospital - where there's really no room for a glitch in safety.