Tracking nurses

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What if your employer insisted on radio frequency identification tags (RFID tags) for all nurses? Would you object to wearing the location-tracking technology?

RFID is an up-and-coming technology in healthcare. So far, healthcare organizations have had the most luck using it to track equipment. RFID-tagged IV pumps, for instance, are essentially self-tracking. Because the technology allows authorized users to track the pumps’ whereabouts at any point in time, nurses who need an IV pump no longer have to spend time searching from room to room or floor to floor for an available pump. RFID technology has also been used to fulfill some more mundane responsibilities, such as tracking the temperature in medication refrigerators.  Before, nurses used to waste precious minutes every day observing and recording the temps; an RFID tag can do it automatically.

RFID technology is also being used to enhance patient safety. RFID-based medication administration systems are easier to use than older, barc0de-based systems. And RFID tags can help staff keep track of patients prone to wandering.

But when it comes to using RFID technology to track an organization’s most valuable asset — its employees — the reaction is mixed. In a recent editorial, Frank Pasquale, JD, a Schering-Plough professor of healthcare regulation and enforcement at Seton Hall University, wrote that many nurses find the idea of such constant tracking oppressive.  “Inserting a watchful electronic eye to monitor what is already an extremely stressful job may create many unintended consequences, or deter people from going into nursing all together,” said Pasquale. On the other hand, he says, “the nurse-cam may be seen as a way to protect vulnerable patients (and perhaps increase the accuracy of evidence of malpractice cases).”

Some nurses seem to welcome the idea of RFID-tracking, in hopes that the data will provide administrators with concrete data regarding nurses’ work days. Others shirk from Big Brother-style surveillance. What do you think? Is RFID tracking of nurses a good idea or a bad one? Why?


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Jennifer Fink, RN, BSN

Jennifer is a professional freelance writer with over eight years experience as a hospital nurse. She has clinical experience in adult health, including med-surg, geriatrics and transplant; she also has a particular interest in women’s health and cancer care. Jennifer has written a variety of health and parenting articles for national publications.

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4 Responses to Tracking nurses

  1. Charissa

    not necessarily for the nurses…it’s meant more for the patients though so ya’ll can keep track of all the patients wondering about. it’s being practiced in my hospital nowadays. ya can reach nurses through mobile phone and that’s practicallity speakin’!!

  2. Christine W

    We wear tracking devices at the hospital I work for. It comes in handy when you are looking for another nurse and cannot reach them on their vocera (a pager). It also lets you know if someone has been in the breakroom too long. 😉
    Our hand held laptops have a tracking device on them so if someone decides to leave the building with one of them, the police can easily find them.
    I don’t think of it as “big brother”, now if I had to wear one or had one implanted in me 24/7 that’s a different story.

  3. S R H

    Having worked for a hospital that uses these tracking devices for nurses, and having worn said device for 2 years while working there, I have to say that, in my opinion, they are a BAD idea. After a very stressful 2 years, I, and several others, went elsewhere for jobs. Nursing is stressful enough, but when you add something such as this, it pushes the stress to an all new level. Our nurse manager used/uses these devices as “backup” to enforce ridiculous disciplinary issues. For instance, according to the nurse manager’s research, for good patient satisfaction, a nurse should answer a call light within a set amount of time. It didn’t matter if we were in the middle of hanging blood, chemo, or doing whatever for *another* patient. If our tracker didn’t register that we had physically gone to the room and answered that call light within a certain time, we received demerits. These demerits remain even today on our permanent records and were also used to justify withholding raises in pay. On any given day, the receivers in the rooms wouldn’t even register our trackers so we had to call maintenance to the rooms to adjust them. It was an ongoing problem and used up precious time that could have been used for patient care. The trackers followed you everywhere in the hospital, even to the breakroom on your lunch break where the unit clerk would often call several times in regards to patient questions/needs. Obviously, I can understand getting in trouble for giving the wrong medication to the wrong patient, or something else that could potentially harm the patient. But when you are very often “called to the office” for really minor things such as this (minor in the scope of nursing practice), it becomes just too much. Incredibly stressful. I’ve been a nurse for many years, and to be honest, wouldn’t recommend this field to anyone.

  4. Renea

    I don’t think I would have a problem with it! If I am not doing anything wrong then why should I care. I have had many time when I tried to reach another nurse on her portable phone and was unable to reach her because she/he had laid it down at their station and was unreachable even for the patients!! If I am in another room and have to answer a call light in a specific amount of time, I can call my tech to answer the call light and see if the patient needs me or the tech! I don’t think I would have a problem wearing said device. But as stated in above comment, if it were something to be implated and worn on a 24/7 case, then I would have a problem. My personal time is my own!!!!