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How Sharp HealthCare is using wristwatches to cut patient wait times

Sharp Chula Vista (Calif.) Medical Center, part of San Diego-based Sharp HealthCare, is tracking patients' movements using wristwatches — an effort that decreased the time it takes for patients to get from place to place throughout the hospital, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.

The effort began in 2013, when the 343-bed hospital started strapping wristwatches to each patient who entered the facility. These bracelet-like tags have a radio frequency ID chip, which relays patient locations to a network of antennas and maps each patient's real-time location within the hospital.

The hospital can track where and when patients move down to the second using a database, which allowed the hospital to see how long patients waited, said Deanna White, BSN, MSN, acute care director of Sharp Chula Vista.

The data revealed rooms in the main hospital frequently remained empty for longer than necessary because cleaning crew members were not immediately aware a patient had been discharged. Additionally, patients had to wait while orderlies searched for available gurneys or wheelchairs.

On average, it took 17 minutes for the hospital to dispatch a nursing assistant or technician to the bedside once a patient transport was requested, according to Ms. White. As a result, Sharp Chula Vista made transporting patients a separate specialty to ensure patients spent less time waiting. 

"We wanted to put a priority on this, so we centralized our transporters and, anytime a patient needs to go anywhere, they handle it from beginning to middle to end," Ms. White told the Union-Tribune.  

Sharp is currently working to expand the patient transport crew system to all its regional hospitals, which includes four acute-care hospitals and three specialty hospitals. The Chula Vista hospital transport team, which started with approximately three transporters, grew to 36.

Hospital planners also incorporated these tracking tags for the hospital's equipment. Each Sharp Chula Vista gurney, wheelchair and IV pole in inventory received a tag and the transport team is responsible for parking, cleaning and maintaining the equipment. The facility also invested in a new smartphone-based system for receiving and responding to transport requests.

From 2013-17, the average amount of time it takes the hospital to start a patient transport decreased from an average of 17.76 minutes to 2.23 minutes, according to data Sharp provided to the Union-Tribune. Additionally, the average amount of time it takes to complete a trip also fell by almost eight minutes.

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