Becoming a “smart hospital” with clinical-grade RTLS

In this era of explosive healthcare innovation, one technology is emerging as essential. It is not a solution to a specific problem, but rather a fundamental infrastructure that is delivering hundreds of solutions today and many more in the future.

Think of how dependent we are on GPS infrastructure in our cars and phones to find where we are going, what and who is in our immediate vicinity and how this has changed our own workflow every day of our lives. Indoor location services, Real-Time Location System (RTLS) infrastructure, is delivering on the same promise, its impact on hospitals that have adopted them is significant and growing rapidly.

Though hospital leaders' attention has been consumed in the last few years implementing and optimizing an EHR, it has not prevented more than 10 percent of U.S. hospitals from adopting RTLS in just the past five years.1 The location services provided by the most advanced RTLS, usually referred to as "clinical-grade RTLS," can improve outcomes, reduce equipment costs and offer revenue opportunities in light of the shifting reimbursement models in healthcare. Clinical-grade RTLS can even automate inputs and simplify operation of an EHR, reducing user time and improving data integrity.

For these reasons, investing in clinical-grade RTLS is one of the best strategic moves a progressive hospital can make. Today, hundreds of healthcare applications have upgraded to consume location services, as they have Wi-Fi services. These hospitals with a clinical-grade RTLS are benefiting from safer, more efficient operations in a time when they face greater financial risk for their spending. RTLS has come a long way in the past five years, and is smarter than ever. In turn, becoming a "smart hospital" is much easier than ever too.

Why investing in RTLS makes sense

Next-generation RTLS technology is as transformative to hospital operations as Uber is to personal transportation. Uber delivers the right vehicle to the right person at the right place at the right time through a convenient smartphone app. Likewise, next-generation clinical-grade RTLS helps healthcare organizations locate the right equipment, right provider, or right patient from any of a hundred different hospital applications, such as the EHR, nurse call or security systems. Just as Uber eliminates the waiting and uncertainty associated with personal transportation, RTLS eliminates hours of searching, repetitive calling and paging to locate people and equipment, all the while automatically tracking key metrics to analyze workflows.

Hundreds of progressively thinking hospitals are benefiting from the latest RTLS technology, some of which offer greater speed and precision than older-generation versions of the technology. By reducing hours of searching for key assets and people, providers can concentrate on patient care while reducing patient wait times. The data gathered through RTLS technology is helping these hospitals identify operational bottlenecks and staffing inefficiencies in their emergency and surgical departments, improving patient throughput and satisfaction, and increasing revenue.

This is possible because clinical-grade RTLS technology can deliver precise location data by segmenting spaces into clinically meaningful zones, such as patient rooms, beds, bays, nursing stations, and other relevant workflow areas. In doing so, the technology delivers location and condition information at rapid speeds, so caretakers can take actions quickly — at the press of a button. Another feature that sets apart today's RTLS technology is its integration capabilities with security systems, such as infant protection systems, and other systems. This represents a huge shift forward, as older RTLS solutions only offered an estimated location, and many lacked integration capabilities.

Thanks to these advancements, today's RTLS addresses a number of hospital challenges, including:

Operations. Advanced RTLS technology improves multiple operations at the same time. Tracking the precise location of assets, providers and patients to help ensure the right people and equipment are in the right place at the right time is a core components for many hospital workflow. Other hospitals are gaining added benefit with their RTLS by recording and tracking temperature and condition data of essential medications, vaccines, blood, and lab samples so these data are ready at the point of care and for regulatory inspections. At the same time, RTLS can monitor hand-washing adherence or other best practices, to ensure hospital caregivers are meeting requirements.

Costs. After just one year, a 500-bed hospital in Southern California that recently implemented a clinical-grade RTLS, reduced its rate of lost or stolen devices from nearly 14 percent to zero. As a result, the hospital saw between $150,000 and $200,000 in annual savings. The hospital was also able to reduce annual rental expenses by $276,000. Utilization of existing equipment is up so future capital expenditures are expected to reduce.

Profits. RTLS can help a hospital increase the number of revenue-enhancing procedures, such as surgeries, or other critical procedures, by automating patient flow. RTLS can also automatically provide location- and time-specific data such as case status, milestones, patient location, and department work queues, such as waiting room, pre-op, inter-op, PACU and post-op. Recently, at a 953-bed Level 1 Trauma hospital that installed a clinical-grade RTLS, the prime-time utilization of the facility's 16 operating rooms increased by 23 percent.

Security. Clinical-grade RTLS also improves a hospital's overall security in numerous ways, such as through a staff duress notification capability that enables immediate response during emergencies by instantly locating the specific employee under duress. Infants are protected through small, comfortable and unobtrusive tags which actively communicates with the system and allows staff bed- and bassinet-level location visibility. Seniors and other patients who might pose a risk for wandering can also wear similar tags to protect their safety. Integration of these technologies through RTLS offers instant location confirmation while protecting the hospital against potential liability risks.

Key Questions to Consider when Investing

As RTLS infrastructure platform has improved, the number of companies using RTLS by offering "location-enabled" solutions has skyrocketed, but not all RTLS platforms are created equal. Before investing in a RTLS, a hospital C-suite should consider the following questions:

1. Is your RTLS up to date with the latest specifications? Technology specifications evolve as new ideas and regulations come to pass. Your RTLS solution should adhere to the most current protocols and guidelines. Also, any solution you consider should be interoperable with your EHR, clinical-decision support system, nurse call or other patient-care technology you use daily.

2. Is the RTLS vendor a proven marketplace leader? Use cases should illustrate that the vendor and solution you are considering is worth the investment and has delivered on its promises.

3. How specific is the technology? Clinical-grade RTLS can track the precise location of a piece of equipment within a defined space, such as a 10-foot by 10-foot room, with a higher level of accuracy than traditional — or legacy — RTLS equipment. Certainty-based accuracy allows tracking equipment at the room- and door level, bed and bay, dispenser level, and chair level, for example.

4. Does your vendor support you? Any technology solution worth considering needs to be backed by a vendor that will support you indefinitely. This support should extend during the installation phase, but also as you upgrade and your needs change. Your vendor should also support your organization's long-term operational and financial goals, and be available to troubleshoot situations that arise post-deployment.

As hospitals and healthcare systems continue to look for ways to curb costs and increase revenue, they need to be smarter when it comes to investing in new technology. Clinical-grade RTLS technology addresses multiple clinical, operational, and financial challenges simultaneously and, unlike other IT investments, offers a near immediate return on that investment.

About the author:
Ari Naim is chief executive officer at CenTrak

1KLAS Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) 2011: Maximizing the ROI

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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