Tracking down the latest RTLS technology

April 23, 2015
Infection Control
From the April 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
Just a few years ago, the vast majority of real time location systems (RTLS) installed in hospitals had one primary and critical role – locating assets. Secondary to the tracking of high-value mobile equipment was often the location of personnel and patients. Such systems are installed now in as many as one in five health care facilities, but the latest generation of RTLS solutions is aimed at a whole new set of pain points.

RTLS still answers the question, “Where’s my stuff?” but the technology has grown exponentially for tracking other information. Over the past decade or more, RTLS went through the usual growing pains of new technologies − hospitals piloted and deployed the systems in limited installations.

Since that time, those early adopters are finding new ways to benefit from RTLS data, while at the same time technology prices have dropped. The result is that today’s systems are growing in scope and variety.

RTLS wireless solutions bring location data to users via Wi-Fi, infrared, ultrasound, Zigbee, active RFID and ultra wideband transmissions. While RTLS growth has been steady, it’s expected to be accelerating in coming years. The numbers illustrate the overall growth: RTLS health care technology sales are estimated to reach more than $2 billion annually by 2020, according to a 2014 study by sales and marketing analyst firm MarketsandMarkets – a growth rate of 32.9 percent from 2014. In addition to the dropping cost of hardware and software, new standards have been a major driver (such as standardization of technologies like ISO/IEC, ANSI, ETSI, and IEEE). Government authorities are also taking initiatives to support the adoption of RTLS by the health care industry. For instance, Veteran Affairs (VA, U.S.) and Hewlett-Packard (U.S.) have signed a five-year contract for installing RTLS systems in VA hospitals.

But the greatest change for RTLS is the broadening scope of applications. At the center of nearly all of them is a quest for improved patient safety, according to Nupoor Joshi, research associate at MarketsandMarkets. Safety, she points out, can include helping prevent infections, ensuring patients are moving properly through processes such as surgery, and that equipment is being properly cleaned and maintained before being used on another patient. With this in mind, many new RTLS applications focus on automated hand hygiene, blood tracking, laboratory and operating room management.

Safety and efficiency in the OR
Tracking patients through the operating room can both boost safety and improve efficiency, thereby enabling a higher volume of surgical procedures. RTLS technology tracks patient progress throughout their perioperative journey. So if it’s deployed properly, a system can bring visibility regarding patient location and key clinical milestones, explains Melissa Sminchak, STERIS Product Manager. STERIS offers a software solution known as RealView Visual Workflow Management software designed to accomplish this and quite a bit more — identifying, for instance, when a room is available for cleaning, when a potential delay is occurring, or when a piece of equipment has been moved to the wrong location.

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