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Meaningful Health Care Informatics Blog

Jul 16 2012   7:52PM GMT

Some of the RTLS hardware options available



Posted by: RedaChouffani
RFID, RTLS, Wi-fi

RTLS continues to be an attractive hospital solution, which helps many executives resolve some of the challenges that nurses, and bio engineering face.  All these help hospitals improve on patient safety, compliance, and improve efficiency.  But for many, there are simply too many vendors and technologies to choose from.  One common question that comes up frequently is what hardware should the hospital decide on or more towards?

In todays market, the tags which are the devices that can be attached to either patients, staff, devices and other assets require specific means to communicate their location to a centralize system.   These methods of communication range from the following:

  • Radio frequency
  • Ultra sound
  • Wi-Fi
  • Infrared

For many health systems Wi-Fi seems to be one of the most cost effective option if the current wireless infrastructure has the appropriate support for Wi-Fi device triangulation.  With vendors such as CISCO and Aruba dominating that market, many hospitals with those wireless infrastructures can locate vendors that provide tags, which support these platforms.

It is however very important to recognize some of the limitations to some of these technologies.  For Wi-Fi based RTLS systems, battery life tends to be a major issue for some.  Since wireless can if not configured properly drain the battery very fast and lack of high accuracy on some wireless RTLS systems, many have resorted to using mixed mode tags that provide a fall back method and additional devices to guarantee locating.

Ultra Sound based RTLS system have also been selected by many.  Some of the limitations that have been associated with it is the potential of disruption due to possible interference from other systems that may generate high frequency sound waves.  While it is fully possibly, there has not been a significant disruptions reported from many of the hospitals with similar systems from Sonitor.

Sound waves are mechanical and require additional energy to push them out where they need to be. They can also be easily disrupted by any nearby generator of high frequency sound waves (e.g. “anything that makes noise”). This noise can distort or even totally block the location data.

As we look at the market and see all the hardware offerings available, Biomed engineers, CNOs and IT executives must evaluate all the different options available based on their tracking needs.  Some of these technologies are better fit for staff and patient tracking better than others, which maybe better suited for asset tracking.  With the existence of vendors such as Centrak which offer tags as small as a matchbox that are packed with over three different technologies (Wifi, RF, and IR) all in one tiny device, these next generation tags and hardware can provide different solutions for the different use cases at a much cost effective rate.

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