Thursday, April 20, 2006

Infrared Badges at Work

By 1997, nurses in over 200 hospitals were wearing infrared badges. The manufacturer, Executone Information Systems, called its version the Infostar Infrared Locator System, and described it as "an infrared-based, wireless locating system to help healthcare staff quickly find people and equipment."

More recently, the lead in infrared badge technology has been assumed by Versus Technology, based in Traverse City, Michigan. Versus has been particularly aggressive in integrating telephone systems with the badge technology. Its PhoneVision, Versus says, makes it possible for callers to "'see' (through the telephone) the location of the person [they] are trying to reach":
By wearing a lightweight badge which emits infrared signals containing location data, the individual's location is instantly available. The location information is received by the system and is accessible to users through the telephone. By simply entering the person's extension, PhoneVision identifies the exact location of a person at that point in time. Once a person is located, the user may choose to ring the nearest extension, hear a list of others at that location, or automatically be forwarded to voice mail.

The chief benefit of its infrared badge system, Versus claims, is the ability to locate staff members quickly, improving staff efficiency and enhancing patient care. In addition to locating specific individuals, the Versus system can also be configured to display the badges of various groups in different colors, so that administrators can see at a glance the locations, for instance, of all the nurses or all the cleaning staff.

In addition to locating individuals, the Versus PhoneVision system is also designed to locate equipment. Any piece of equipment can be rigged with an infrared tag containing a unique code:
Simply dial into the system, enter the equipment's ID number, and PhoneVision will automatically identify its location. If desired, you may also choose to hear who is with the equipment or hear what other equipment is at that location.

There's some concern on the part of employees, and nurses in particular, that systems like PhoneVision will increase the tendency of management to look at them as merely bipedal pieces of equipment. Certainly, an infrared badge increases the granularity of the data available to an employer, i.e., the level of detail about each employee's activities during the course of the day. Employers argue that the additional information will help them evaluate internal processes to make them more efficient, and that the system will also help reduce ambient noise (since employees can be located quickly without having to be paged). Nonetheless, employees are concerned that the accumulated infrared badge data will be another tool to help employers demand additional work or deny salary increases.

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