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Consider real-time location systems for enhanced analytics potential

Real-time location systems offer health care organizations more than the ability to keep track of all their moving parts. RTLS play a role in analytics as well.

Hospitals systems around the nation have at some point considered pursuing and evaluating RTLS, or real-time locating systems for their organization. Many of these products today offer far more benefits than just simply locating assets in a facility.

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RTLS uses wireless signals to locate tags within a specific area. The information is stored and used to help nurses and hospital staffs identify the location of tagged assets and staff devices. The tags in the hospital settings are being associated with patients, clinicians, general staff and other assets. For RTLS vendors and users, the goal is to utilize the data that is transmitted from the sensors and make meaningful use of it.

Some of the use cases that RTLS applications offer include:

  • Locating specific medical devices and equipment such as IV pump mobile ultrasound machine and even surgical tools.
  • Identifying the location of a patient in the facility when they are not in their rooms.
  • Remotely reading temperature within some of the storage units used around the hospital.
  • Locating all surgical tools used in the OR and ensuring that all are still available post-surgery.
  • Recording hand hygiene compliance for hospital staff prior to entering patient rooms.

While there are many additional usages of this technology, it has clearly helped achieve improved patient care and safety, reduction of equipment shrinkage, and improved efficiency and workflows for staff.

As more hospitals consider the use of RTLS in their facilities, many health care executives, biomed engineers, IT directors, operational managers and clinicians are evaluating what is currently being offered as part of the tracking solutions. The following is a list of different areas in which RTLS solutions provide strong capabilities:

Mobility: Similar to how smartphones equipped with GPS are being used to locate a specific destination, many of the RTLS vendors provide a web interface or mobile app that can provide mobile access for end users to locate equipment and staff within the facility. This functionality is becoming more useful as nurses and clinicians need access to assets as they move around the health care setting.

Decreasing hardware costs: The costs of tags have been on the decline, and some vendors are utilizing existing Wi-Fi wireless infrastructures to eliminate the capital investment required to get monitors and sensors wired throughout the facility. All these factors force manufacturers to create more cost-effective new sensor technology. There are some vendors such as CenTrak, which provides hardware that uses radio frequency as well as second-generations infrared to communicate with a controller device and tags. This is offered as an alternate to using Wi-Fi based scanners and hardwired scanners.  

Business intelligence: With the availably of location data of hospital assets and staff that are constantly moving and reporting data to a central repository, the intelligence reporting capabilities become endless. One of the key aspects of RTLS is to have the ability to perform real-time and historical data analysis. There are several examples of how the data can be used.

The following is a short list of possibilities in terms of reporting:

  • Disease outbreak management through reports that identify any staff who came in contact with specific patients or a contaminated area.
  • Compliance review to identify the frequency of nurse rounding.
  • Patient safety through exception reports of non-compliant staff and hand hygiene protocol.
  • Statistical reports identifying frequency of use of specific devices to help eliminate underutilized equipment.
  • Employee productivity reports that can help identify employee location trends.
  • Temperature reporting to ensure compliance.
  • Asset distribution reporting to identify utilization by department, floor or facility, and help ensure equipment availability is optimized.
  • Patient satisfaction reporting through the review of nurse and physician response time.

Integration: Many hospitals have been using patient flow tracking systems in the ER. Many of those applications provide notifications relating to order statuses as well as general patient information. Similar functionality has begun to move to RTLS. Not only can nurses locate assets and patients, they can also receive detailed information about them. This is one of the reasons why some vendors offer strong integration and support for HL7 interfacing.

Web access: Since the introduction of RTLS solutions many vendors have offered mainly a thick client version of their products. But as more clients request lightweight application with low maintenance requirements, vendors have begun the transition to a web-based platform. This enables users to access the application from almost any platform with a compatible browser including smart phones and tablets.

Workflow engine: Many of the successful software products in the market have shared a few common traits, one of which is the solutions ability to empower the end users by providing them with the flexibility to apply their business rules and processes within the application. RTLS products are no different. This flexibility has been one of the driving forces behind many of the successful installs. Having the benefits of a customizable workflow engine within the RTLS application allows the organization to create workflows that can trigger actions based on specific custom events.

Some of the examples of workflows within an RTLS system are:

  • Alerting individuals when a patient enters a restricted area.
  • Alerting security when an asset or patient leaves the facility.
  • Kicking off specific tasks based on actions or buttons pushed from the badges as well as staff’s roles/department.
  • Alerting nurses or other staff members when a physician is present in the ward.
  • Displaying information and alerts for the patients on interactive TVs with the attending clinician's details.
  • Altering biomed engineers of a part needing maintenance when it is placed in a specific area in storage or location.

Reda Chouffani is vice president of development with Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the health care industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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