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Real Time Locating Systems on Track in Hospitals

July 27, 2011
From the July 2011 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
This report originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of DOTmed Business News

By Trevor Bromley

Real Time Locating Systems have evolved dramatically since their inception as merely equipment tracking systems. Today, more forward-thinking hospitals are using RTLS to track staff and patients, opening opportunities to improve workflow, enhance throughput and increase revenue. RTLS have become sophisticated enough for automated nurse call logging and cancellation, schedule management, patient flow control and even “smart rooms,” which have the potential to revolutionize patient-caregiver interaction.

RTLS in brief
Presently, two categories of RTLS hardware are in use in hospitals: low accuracy or low-resolution tracking, and a new generation that provide room-level and, in some cases, sub-room-level accuracy. Traditional tracking is carried out by Wi-Fi tags that use the hospital’s existing Wi-Fi access system. Though inexpensive, they only give an approximate location for an object. These systems can seldom tell apart tagged equipment or people in different rooms and facility levels as Wi-FI transmits through building walls and floors. The utility of these systems is therefore limited.

But newer RTLS systems, particularly those based on advanced ultrasound technology, can find tagged entities within a 3-D space within one inch. This level of accuracy helps facilities move beyond coarse equipment tracking and into more sophisticated applications.

The emergency department and operating suite are two areas that greatly benefit from RTLS. According to Dick Tabbutt, executive chairman of Sonitor Technologies, RTLS can provide rapid financial return. “Managing and optimizing patient workflow can enable departments to see more patients in less time,” he said.

For Dr. Michael Gonzalez, vice chair and director of operations of the emergency medicine department at VCU Medical Center, increased revenues come from an increased level of operational preparedness.

The former Navy doctor has deployed USID-based RTLS to help pre-stage IV pumps and other equipment, in order to become more efficient. “When a patient comes in, we’re fully prepared and don’t need to hunt for anything and don’t have to guess about whether or not it is functioning properly,” he said.

Gonzalez also derives a better understanding of staff utilization by analyzing a variety of staff-dependent patient care tasks. He can, example, figure out the time it takes to carryout physician orders. “We can now have real data to help us to properly adjust staffing levels and deployment.”

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