5 novel uses for RTLS technology

By Michelle McNickle
01:12 PM
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Recent reports have touted the effectiveness of RTLS technology on a company's bottom line. An even better ROI can be had with a little creativity, says Merrie Wallace, executive vice president of product solutions at real-time awareness solutions company Awarepoint.

"Quite frankly, most customers start with some location finding," said Wallace. "That's their goal – finding a piece of equipment, finding a staff member. We look for not just where the items are, but what's the history and what's the outcome. That's what we're trying to drive."

Wallace outlines five novel uses for RTLS technology. 

1. For asset tracking. From a maintenance perspective, said Wallace, organizations want to have the right volume of equipment. "What we find is most hospitals have double or triple the amount of equipment they need because they can never find them or locate them," she said. Also, from a capital perspective, RTLS technology aids in lowering expenses, whether it's purchasing to replace lost equipment or renting from a third-party vendor. "So that expense comes up dramatically, but what we find is, once we deploy tags on equipment like ventilators and compression devices, we find 10 percent of the time, those items are in the wrong direction from a healthcare delivery process." What tends to happen, Wallace said, is equipment travels from patient room to patient room, without undergoing a decontamination process. "So we track that and we alert to that, if there are breaches in those processes. We make sure we have the right flows going on."

[See also: RTLS sets the stage for savings at NC Medical Center.]

2. In surgery. When it comes to using RTLS in the operating room, said Wallace, organizations have opted to deploy the technology on their instrumentation pans to ensure instruments go through a decontamination process. And once again, RTLS technology is used to keep track of equipment. "It's about reducing the cost of your equipment across your facility," said Wallace. "Let's drive toward an outcome, and it's really an outcome that's non-reimbursable, which is a hospital acquired infection. We know if this equipment isn't being decontaminated, it can lead to those infections."

3. For temperature monitoring. Wallace said she's seen RTLS technology deployed in similar quality initiatives, like when it comes to temperature monitoring in refrigerators. "Institutions have [medical-grade] refrigerators that maintain tissue, blood product, medications, etc., and it needs to be maintained at the appropriate temperature," she said. Nurses typically manage the refrigerators, Wallace continued, which often contain large volumes of specimens, and they're responsible for looking out for variations in temperature. "We put temperature probes in those devices, and it allows an institution to centralize and get the task off your professional staff," she said. "It allows it to be centralized and then [send out an] alert if there are any variations that would compromise the contents of that refrigeration unit, as well as keep [the organization] compliant."

[See also: Real-time top trend in claims.]

4. For the protection of PHI. Recently, Wallace saw an organization deploy RTLS technology on any device containing personal health information (PHI). "So, most IT departments today really manage the security into those devices and password protect and auto log-out these devices in an effort to maintain the HIPAA and privacy protection of PHI," she said. The organization she spoke with "creatively, and rightly so, looked to tag all the devices that contained PHI information." With the help of this technology,  an organization can not only track where, for example, a laptop is, but can also be alerted if it somehow makes its way to the trash, she said. "So they would know where those devices are if they contain PHI. I understand the challenges healthcare institutions have as far as maintaining PHI, but tagging devices that contain it and knowing at all times where they're located is a very innovative strategy."

5. To drive efficiency and improve workflows. Wallace referenced a hospital in Oregon, which is "actually tagging a complex workflow environment and high-acuity areas in surgery," she said. This includes not only their equipment, but also everyone on their staff, including physicians, anesthesiologists, and patients. "[This] can help predict and make sure the next steps occur in a care delivery process," said Wallace. For example, a series of communication occurs when a pre-op patient first meets with an anesthesiologist. "It creates a chain, and the workflow allows us to say this interaction will happen because the anesthesiologist met with the patient and had their interaction. We know they’ll be doing that downstream notification to the next constituents in terms of care delivery to let them know the patient is ready." Employing RTLS technology, Wallace added, helps reduce the communication required in this chain – such as phone calls – while increasing the capacity in these institutions. It's about "the capacity and access to care for patients, and the efficiency of care for the patient," she said. "We want the most streamlined process as possible."