by David Dennis
, Contributing Reporter | February 01, 2017
From the January 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
As an industry, real time location systems (RTLS) manufacturers and their software partners have made technological strides in terms of their systems’ reliability, accuracy, speed, ease of installation and applications.
These combined improvements have helped deliver on the promises made to hospital operations and clinical units around asset tracking, temperature control, patient safety and other traditional RTLS use cases. In an age when “big data” and analytics are expected to change the game, RTLS systems are a source of near-constant data collection and reporting. The question is, and will continue to be: When hospitals apply analytics to the data collected by RTLS systems and software, what emerges?
Extrapolating from traditional use cases
The two basic inputs recorded by RTLS are location data and time data, although temperature and humidity monitoring is another capability. The data help populate a real-time virtual map of tagged items such as infusion pumps, addressing perennial issues like equipment shortages. Knowing where crucial assets like IV pumps and wheelchairs are in real time can and does contribute to concrete process improvements in the hospital. It helps individual nurses do their job more quickly. It minimizes the hoarding and hiding of equipment often caused by equipment scarcity. And it may even allow hospitals to save money by reducing their excess inventory. But hospitals and health systems are in a position where they need and want to look beyond adjustments to inventory, asking instead: How can the massive trove of RTLS data be used beyond core applications like asset tracking — and what can this data reveal when it is combined with other data sources?
A data analytics approach to RTLS information about infusion pumps or staff patterns might aim for broader operational, and perhaps even clinical, insights. It is possible to compare RTLS-enabled nurse call system data, including time spent at bedside, against key benchmarks for patient satisfaction. This integration of disparate data has helped hospitals investigate and understand the relationship between clinical time spent with the patient and patient satisfaction scores, which have rightly become a major area of concern for hospital leaders right up to the board of directors.
Steps in the right direction
Many RTLS companies have touted use cases beyond simple asset tracking for years. The major RTLS companies like Sonitor, Versus, Centrak, Ekehau/AristaFlow, Awarepoint and Aeroscout offer advanced applications such as locating patients at risk for wandering (typically dementia sufferers) or abduction (infants), hand-hygiene compliance (monitoring nurses’ use of hand-washing stations) and automated temperature monitoring and control for materials that require refrigeration. Industry thinkers have also identified other areas where RTLS reporting could save staff hours, improve the quality of care or flag patient safety issues, including: