Tracking a bright future for RTLS

SAN DIEGO – For the healthcare industry, real-time location system (RTLS) technology represents one of the most useful and potentially transformative tools for patient safety and cost reduction. It also remains one of the most under-penetrated health IT markets.


Using a series of tags and wireless signals to determine an object's – or a person's – location at any given moment, RTLS is used primarily in asset tracking, but can be put to use to keep tabs on everything from patient flow to temperature monitoring to hygiene compliance.


Those chips hold huge potential for reaping enormous cost savings and vastly improving patient safety. But so far, some analysts estimate, market penetration remains as low as 10 percent.


Moreover, according to a 2009 KLAS study, most providers that do use RTLS are putting it to department-specific uses. Just a handful are achieving the true potential of enterprise-wide implementation. And more than half of those surveyed are unfamiliar with the technology.


“Ultimately, providers need to be more educated about RTLS before it can really take off,” KLAS research director Steve Van Wagenen said.


But those numbers have been on the upswing over the past couple years. "This market is starting to pick up in speed," said Jay Deady, CEO of San Diego-based Awarepoint, which installs ZigBee-based RTLS and "enterprise awareness" technology at nearly 100 hospitals nationwide.


Deady took the reins at Awarepoint in late 2010. Prior to that, he was an executive at McKesson and, more recently, Eclipsys. If he's learned anything over his 20 years in health IT, he said, having seen "the consolidation that occurred in the EMR market and how hospitals' expectations evolved," it's that, when looking at "90 percent-plus market share being open" in the RTLS sector, "trying to be a one-trick pony, and not a solutions provider, would probably not be the optimal way to end up as one of the companies that's leading the industry."


That's why Awarepoint announced in April its acquisition of Charlotte, N.C.-based Patient Care Technology Systems (PCTS) for an undisclosed sum. The combo of Awarepoint's technology platform with PCTS' software and clinical apps will make for an enterprise-wide RTLS solution that will help the firm "capitalize on an enormous untapped market," said Deady.