Researchers at the University of Arkansas are using one cutting edge technology to explore the potential benefits of another. Using a detailed virtual hospital created in Second Life, the researchers are examining the ways that RFID-enabled devices can improve health care in the real world.
The research project is a joint effort by the University of Arkansas’ College of Engineering’s Center for Innovation in Health care Logistics and the RFID Research Center, a subunit of the Information Technology Research Institute (itself a part of the Sam M. Walton College of Business.) Under the direction of Craig Thompson, a professor of computer science and computer engineering, researchers have constructed a virtual hospital, from the operating suites down to storage closets and bathrooms. The facility is equipped with everything needed to keep a hospital functioning, from sophisticated diagnostic machines to working plumbing, and populated by avatars of staff and patients, filled with organs ready to be operated upon.
Once the hospital was built and populated, researchers were ready to begin the heart of the study. Devices throughout the hospital are outfitted with RFID tags, creating smart shelves, warehouses with scanners at the entries and traceable surgical supplies. The researchers can study how RFID technology can impact supply chain efficiency or improves safety, and how the staff reacts to it; all without the high costs and other issues of implementing the technology in the real world.