Back in 1806, when Phillip Bozzini designed a light-conducting device that would examine the canals and cavities and become a precursor to the modern endoscope, he probably had no idea that the tool would become a useful aid in a plethora of medical procedures, let alone an expensive piece of equipment pedaled at an extremely high rate.

According to an April 2007 story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the small, easy-to-hide devices are an easy target for thieves and have a retail value ranging from $25, 000 to $30,000 apiece. The article states that thefts of the device are so widespread that the FBI is involved in the investigation.

What makes the devices so popular among thieves is the size (one can easily fit in a coat pocket) and availability in hospitals, according to officials. One of the biggest problems hospitals face is properly storing the device.

Enter Mobile Aspects (Pittsburgh), a healthcare technology supplier that says it has come up with a unique and novel solution to keep the devices in the hands of hospitals and out of the black market.

“With respect to theft, it seems to be a pretty big issue,” said Bryan Christianson, VP of sales and marketing at Mobile Aspects. “There was a case of someone pocketing half a million [dollars] from selling endoscopes.”

The company has designed iRIScope, a two-pronged attempt to secure the devices, through a software program that keeps a record of each devices use and a cabinet that locks and will not open until all the endoscopes are accounted for. iRIScope uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to keep an account of the endoscopes.

Specifically the cabinet-based solution secures endoscopes and manages access to the instruments while tracking utilization, repair and compliance with disinfection protocols. In addition to managing the equipment, the system advances patient safety in a variety of ways, most notably allowing for the automatic association of individual patients to unique endoscopes and procedures.

With the rapid growth of non-invasive procedures in areas such as gastroenterology, many healthcare facilities have invested heavily in the acquisition of endoscopic equipment, often an investment exceeding a million dollars.

“So it’s simply a hardware-and-software solution,” Christianson said. “Today most [healthcare facilities] don’t do a very efficient job of recording the use of endoscopes.”

Given its clinical application within the human body, stringent protocols are mandated for the disinfection and reprocessing of the equipment. With breakdowns in these reprocessing protocols, significant risks for cross-contamination of equipment and patient infection can and often do emerge, he said.

Christianson gave an example of an endoscope being used in a person suffering from hepatitis and then being used again in a patient without those symptoms.

He added that these mistakes were costly and raised the chance of “cross contamination” in patients. “As these devices are being used, they need to be put through a reprocessing system.”

And what happens when a device isn’t re-registered properly or not returned to the cabinet?

“The cabinet locks up and an alert in the form of an e-mail or a message to a PDA appears and lets the physician or nurse know that there is a serious problem,” Christianson said. “They’re going to find out which of the devices was processed correctly and they’re going to find out which one wasn’t.”

Mobile Aspects debuted the iRIScope at the Managing Today’s OR Suite conference, which ended Friday in Washington.

“The development of iRIScope is another example of our ability to sustain our position as the leader in creating RFID enabled solutions for healthcare through innovative, leading-edge technology to solve complex operational issues,” said Suneil Mandava, president/CEO of Mobile Aspects.

“More importantly,” he said, “given today’s pressures on healthcare providers for care quality and economic performance, this solution delivers a clear return on investment and improved care quality to align with immediate financial and clinical imperatives within the hospital environment.”

Mobile Aspects is focused on providing an integrated suite of clinical resource management solutions to automate the management of supply, asset, drug and patient tracking through the One System of CARE.