Busy signals

The RTLS market is underpenetrated, with most hospitals having much more pressing matters on which to spend precious dollars. But that could change soon, as the technology’s value becomes undeniable.

Tracking the adoption of RFID & RTLS

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and real-time location systems (RTLS) offer big savings and ROI for hospitals, and hold the promise for big improvements in patient safety. They also happen to be really cool.

But it just so happens that not too many facilities are availing themselves of the technolgies' asset and patient tracking capabilities. There's simply too much else to do.

"It's not in a lot of budgets," says John Hoyt, executive vice president of HIMSS Analytics.

A look at the chart says it all: Barely 17 percent of hospitals have operational asset tracking/management systems in place, and fewer than 3 percent have plans to purchase the technology or are in the process of having it installed.

The mandates of meaningful use and the looming specter of the ICD-10 switchover have hospitals stretched thin just trying to comply with the things they've got to comply with.

But in, say, 2015 or 2016? After MU, and after ICD-10? Is that when many more provider organizations will finally have the incentive and financial wherewithal to pursue large-scale RTLS deployments?

Hoyt says there could be one more "after": Perhaps after purchases related to bundled payment reform have been made, asset and patient tracking  -  and the numerous other applications of RFID tags, some of which are still being thought up  -  will finally find some substantial traction.

"If hospitals are pursuing some bundled payment arrangements, we expect that to be a little mini bubble after the big bubble," says Hoyt. "I would say it's like fourth of four. You might see it after that."

RFID/RTLS has a lot to offer  -  but primarily only to hospitals  -  big ones, at that.

Physician practices and critical access hospitals don't have much need to tag and tack every piece of expensive medical equipment they own.

"The value in these things comes by the large physical organizations," says Hoyt. "They get so big, stuff gets lost. But an 80-bed hospital, if they have to have this, what's wrong? The place isn't that big! Go find it!"

Still, when it comes to, say, academic medical centers, the need is acute. "We've done studies, when I did consulting, and some of the stories are just laughable," says Hoyt. One facility, he says, perhaps exaggerating only slightly, discovered via asset tracking that it had "116 more IV pumps than it really needed."