Towson University Students Get a Lesson in Barcode Technology

Towson University’s mass casualty exercise, or “Operation STAT,” is an annual emergency training simulation event hosted by Towson University’s College of Health Professions.

An inter-professional study, Operation STAT involves students from Towson’s Nursing, Physician Assistant, Occupational Therapy, Child Life Specialist, Health Science, Health Care Management, Integrated Homeland Security Management, and Supply Chain Management programs, as well more than 300 volunteers taking on the role of “victims.”

The goal of the exercise is to provide students with hands-on emergency training as they coordinate victim treatments. For its 2014 Operation STAT, Towson created a fictitious scenario in which a plane crashed into Johnny Unitas Stadium, injuring thousands of people.

Challenges

Although Operation STAT has long been recognized as well-executed event with great inter-professional educational value, Towson did not have a means to measure the success of the exercise according to students’ performance in treating victims. Were victims with more severe “injuries” waiting a longer period of time for treatment? Or did everyone receive treatment in a timely manner? Did victims end up in the correct treatment area based on the severity of their affliction? If Towson could track patient flow throughout the exercise with automated data collection technology, it could not only determine the efficiency and accuracy of victim treatment, but also establish performance benchmarks for future events.

Solution

Towson had to look no further for a solution than Barcoding, Inc., an enterprise mobility expert and a leading systems integrator specializing in automated data capture systems. Baltimore-based Barcoding worked with Towson’s College of Business and Economics to develop a patient-tracking solution, comprising mobile computers, barcoded wristbands, and a custom-built software application created with Barcoding’s CaptureSoft eXpress platform.

The solution works as follows: At the beginning of the exercise, when victims check in and receive a card indicating their hypothetical affliction, they also receive a barcoded wristband, coded based on their degree and type of injury. The wristband is then scanned with a Motorola MC7090, entering data about the victim and his or her degree of affliction into the software system. The victim’s assigned degree of injury is hidden from the nursing staff and the victims themselves to test the staff’s triage accuracy.

As victims move through each stage of the exercise, “tracking volunteers” scan their wristbands to gather data indicating the length of stay in each station, from moulage to triage to treatment and finally, debriefing. When victims reach the triage stage, nursing students determine the type and extent of their injuries, and assign them to a particular treatment area: red (most severe), yellow, or green (least severe). Wristbands are scanned when victims reach their assigned treatment area, and again after treatment.

Results

Towson’s supply chain management students were able to successfully capture performance data at each of the tracking areas. They then analyzed the collected data to gauge how long victims spent waiting for treatment, the time it took to apply treatment, as well as whether victims were correctly triaged and ended up in the correct treatment areas.

Some of the metrics obtained that will be used to establish benchmarks for next year’s Operation STAT are shown in Figure 1.

“Next year we will be able to compare patient flow data to see whether our efficiency improved,” said Tobin Porterfield, program director, supply chain management, Towson University. “Capturing this valuable information will allow us to make changes to our processes in the future and see the positive effects of those changes on the exercise.”

Most important, Operation STAT provided students with hands-on experience implementing and using barcode technology.

“Barcode technology is a viable solution for tracking people, items, and other assets in a wide range of situations, not just in an emergency,” Porterfield said. “Barcoding, Inc., gave our students the opportunity to work with this technology, firsthand, and see how it can apply in the real world. That is something you can’t teach in a classroom.”