Embracing 'medical centers of the future'

By Erin McCann
11:14 AM

RTLS technology brings patient care, innovation to the forefront

PUYALLUP, WA  -  The healthcare industry has been lethargic, resistant even, to redesigning care models and embracing innovative technology that other industries have long utilized. One organization, in particular, seeks to change that. 

Enter the new Puyallup Medical Center in Washington, part of Group Health, where patients check in and head straight to their rooms, where wait times are non-existent, where patient trackers help eliminate inefficiencies, and where healthcare services come to the patient, rather than the other way around. 

Group Health, the Seattle-based nonprofit healthcare system, announced real-time locating system (RTLS) sensor technology would be central in their 'medical center of the future.' 

Officials say the new Puyallup Medical Center  -  a 54,000 square foot primary care facility  -  was designed with direct feedback from patients, clinicians and staff in mind. 

Some of the key elements around this concept of patient-centered care were "listening to the voice of our customer and hearing what their concerns were, what they thought the ideal patient experience would be for a typical medical center visit," says Donnell Coomes, senior project director of the Group Health Cooperative. The center will allow easy access to services, better care, a low-stress environment and efficient use of resources, according to Group Health officials.

Patient-centric innovations include streamlining patient flow and eliminating waiting room time. The RTLS patient tracking badges allow the check-in staff to know which rooms are available, which provider is seeing which patient and be able to tell whether or not it's the right time to send a patient up to a care room and which rooms are clean and available for use. 

The RTLS technology allows any staff "to glance up at a large monitor that's hanging from the ceiling, where you can see a glance of where patients are, where providers are," said Coomes. 

The medical center will tap Intelligent InSites for the patient and equipment RTLS tracking technology. 

In addition to patient tracking abilities, the new center will also bring services to the patient. No longer will a patient have to leave the room to get labs done, see a nutritionist or speak with a pharmacist. The "end game vision," Coomes says, is to have the entire primary care visit done in the care room. "You could have that in-depth consultation with your pharmacist that you normally have to have in the pharmacy surrounded by other people...in a private kind of environment," she adds. 

Moreover, the RTLS badges allow for more patient independence and fewer administrative staff. Coomes points to allergy sufferers who come into the center for allergy shots as an example. When an allergy patient comes into the center, they will be given a live, activated, tracking badge, so that if after receiving allergy shots and sitting in the wait room with few staff around, "if they start having an issue, they can press a button, and that will alert their care team that they're having an issue," Coomes said. When the patient presses the button, "it makes their little icon on the map flash, and you'll know exactly where that patient is."

Another difference in the Puyallup Medical Center addresses the issue of office communication. Physicians at the center will no longer have private offices, but rather will be integrated in with other support staff  -  a change officials say will enhance office provider-staff communication. "So imagine, we've got an eight-pack of desks together, and in that eight-pack, we have three doctors and three flow staff," said Coomes. The docs are now on the floor, "in the fray," with support staff. 

Officials are expecting center benefits to far surpass enhanced office communication and improved patient care. They are also anticipating considerable cost savings from the RTLS technology. 

"A lot of our cost savings is honestly coming from the asset-tracking piece of things  -  assets being equipment or other staff," said Coomes. "We spend a lot of time looking for people and things, and we spend a lot of time, too, rooming patients," so if we eliminate those inefficiencies and time wasted, that's where the savings will come, she added. 

A 2011 KLAS report examining the cost savings of RTLS found that 95 percent of organizations utilizing the technology experience operational efficiency gains. 

"Providers using RTLS solutions reported finding success when automating the monitoring of refrigerator temperatures; tracking assets, patients, or staff members; assessing hand-hygiene compliance; and engaging in a variety of other uses," said report author Steve VanWagenen. According to the report, 10 to 15 percent of the healthcare industry is using RTLS technology.  

By leveraging RTLS, officials say Group Health can have the right room, the right staff and the right equipment ready for the patient which aims to reduce patient wait times and cycle times. 

With the RTLS business intelligence and reporting capabilities, Group Health officials hope to further optimize patient flow and improve asset management, as vast amounts of automatically collected data can now be analyzed through real-time dashboards and reports. This information will enable the center to continually monitor and optimize their processes.

"We are proud to partner with the leading consumer-governed healthcare system in creating the ideal patient experience," said Doug Burgum, chairman of Intelligent InSites. "Group Health's pioneering approach to care delivery will surely become a model for using innovative solutions to achieve the maximum level of efficiency and patient satisfaction."

Officials say the medical center is slated to open for patients this December.