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RTLS: A 'nice to have' or a 'must have'

by Lisa Chamoff , Contributing Reporter
From the November 2014 issue of DOTmed HealthCare Business News magazine

When the country’s first case of the deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome came to Community Hospital in Munster, Ind., in late April, the hospital used technology normally associated with tracking wheelchairs and infusion pumps to make sure the health care workers who were exposed to the patient didn’t cause the disease to spread. Because staff routinely wear real-time location systems (RTLS) badges as part of their nurse call system, the hospital was able to quickly identify 50 staff members who came in contact with the contagious patient and send them home until it was certain they hadn’t contracted the virus.

“The ability to document who interacted with who, it allowed the hospital to manage the situation,” says HT Snowday, the president of Versus Technology, which provided Community Hospital with its real-time locating system. “They were prepared. They did the hard work. We were proud to be a part of whether they had good information to act on.”

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Staff and patient safety is just one of the many benefits of RTLS. The technology can also be used to track assets, monitor equipment temperatures, document patient wait times and can even track whether or not employees are washing their hands. In the era of the Affordable Care Act, employing a technology that is geared toward improving operational efficiencies seems like it would be a no-brainer for hospitals. Yet, for many facilities, the systems are closer to the bottom of a long list of priorities.

“Right now, the U.S. market is still emerging, but I would estimate the market to be approximately 10 to 15 percent penetrated depending on the form of measurement,” says Adam Peck, director of marketing for CenTrak, which provides RTLS hardware, including asset, staff, and patient tags, as well as the battery operated locating components, solely for health care organizations. “One of the reasons we’re seeing a lack of adoption is because it’s often viewed as a ‘nice to have’ and not always as a ‘must have.’” Peck says enterprise installs may be at about 5 to 10 percent, while departmental installs may account for another 20 to 25 percent.

Joe Van De Graaff, research director at KLAS Research, which released a report on RTLS early adopters at the end of 2011, estimates that about one in five of the thousands of hospitals KLAS speaks with have an RTLS system already installed. “Some of the large systems we speak with are starting to look at how [they] can create efficiencies [within their] operations,” Van De Graaff says. “Some of that’s going to translate into RTLS.”
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