The Financial Case for Implementing RTLS in Your Hospital
Real-time locating systems offer precise indoor asset tracking that empowers hospitals to improve performance, cost-efficiency, and security. Their implementation should drive remarkable savings across the healthcare industry.
Nowhere across the healthcare industry are the stakes higher than in hospitals, where things move faster, cost more, and are more life-critical than in any other healthcare setting, and where the loss of one second — or one device — can equal the loss of millions of dollars, and even lives.
Operational bottlenecks, poorly optimized workflows, and mismanagement of assets have long plagued American hospitals, which struggle to effectively control the high-volume, high-leverage workload that comes with the territory.
Enter real-time locating systems (RTLS), which allow hospitals to track everything from doctors and patients to hospital beds and ICU ventilators in real-time, with both vertical and horizontal precision to within inches.
The applications are countless: asset loss prevention, patient security, and real-time resource allocation are the most obvious short-term use cases. In the long-term, location data can be used to analyze breakdowns and pinpoint inefficiencies in hospital workflows.
The potential impact of RTLS technologies on performance and profitability in American hospitals cannot be overstated. But integrating RTLS into real-world settings will require significant investment and planning along with smart IT solutions to make it all work.
What is RTLS?
An RTLS is essentially an indoor Global Positioning System (GPS). Its location-based infrastructure is designed to track assets and individuals inside buildings, where GPS’ imprecise location resolution makes it difficult to effectively track people and objects.
Say, for example, an ER manager wants to find the cardiologist closest to a patient undergoing urgent cardiac arrest. Instead of running through the halls or blindly paging the entire hospital, the dispatch can use an RTLS to find and direct the right doctor to the right ER bed.
GPS technology, with its 13-foot RMS, difficulty penetrating buildings, and inability to determine vertical location, is far too ineffectual for this particular application. Hence the use of RTLS, which relies on a combination of WiFi, bluetooth, RFID, and yes, GPS to determine locations as precise as a specific room in the building.
These systems work through a combination of location sensors and tags. The sensors are fixed throughout the rooms and hallways of the building, while the tags are affixed to key hospital assets like doctors, patients, and medical equipment.
The tags send wireless signals to the receivers, which determine their unique ID and location based on signal resolution, and then transmit that information to a central repository on the hospital network. Hospital staff can access the central repository from workstations or mobile devices, where all assets can be monitored.
Key Advantages of RTLS: Performance
RTLS enables two broad categories of performance enhancement: primary operational functions and secondary operational optimization. The example of an ER manager finding the right (and closest) doctor for the job is a good example of a primary operational function. Another could be locating the closest unused IV pump for a patient in need of one.
Secondary operational optimization consists of changes made to the way a hospital runs in response to knowledge gleaned from analyzing data collected by an RTLS. In other words: workflow optimization. By analyzing RTLS data, hospital managers might determine a more efficient way to store equipment, or discover that human resource distribution in triage is the reason behind lagging patient throughput. In short, RTLS data helps stakeholders figure out how to make hospitals run more efficiently.
Key Advantages of RTLS: Cost-Efficiency
With greater efficiency comes reduced costs. More quickly putting doctors in the right places means more time spent with patients and greater operational capacity. The ability to locate equipment when it’s needed means less redundancy and lower capital costs.
And of course, real-time tracking prevents the theft or loss of expensive equipment. Better patient tracking reduces the risk of lawsuits and legal expenses, and a granular view into asset distribution allows hospitals to determine which procedures are most profitable, then implement changes to promote those procedures.
When to Invest in RTLS
Before hospitals can reap all of RTLS’ benefits, they need to make sure that they’re prepared to take the plunge. They’ll first need to consider which RTLS best suits their needs, as Airfinder and Centrak have recently emerged as industry leaders. Hospitals will also want to ensure their existing systems can integrate with the new infrastructure, and determine what changes if any should be made to ensure a smooth transition. Other factors, including hospital size and cultural disposition to new technologies must also be considered.
Perhaps most importantly, hospitals will need to ensure that their networks are properly set up to handle the increased network demands of RTLS. If hospital networks are already struggling with capacity and bandwidth issues, RTLS will only exacerbate the problem.
Indoor propagation is another factor that will impact the efficacy of RTLS technologies. The larger the hospital, the more potential there is for wireless interference and suboptimal indoor propagation.
Unfortunately, hospitals are often stretched so thin dealing with the problem of the moment that they don’t have time to plan for major IT projects like implementing RTLS. That’s why many hospitals choose to partner with an experienced networking company like Turn-key Technologies (TTI).
Whether you’re considering RTLS or already struggling with the networking demands of existing technologies, TTI can provide a comprehensive assessment of your current network, along with a step-by-step plan for optimizing it.