Study: RTLS technology can save hospitals time and money, boost care

By Eric Wicklund
09:57 AM

A study of the use of a real-time location system (RTLS) at Southeastern Regional Medical Center indicates the technology can save hospitals hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, improve clinical outcomes and boost staff morale.

The study, conducted by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), analyzed the use of RadarFind’s RTLS system at the Lumberton, N.C. hospital. According to the results, soon to be published in the Journal of Clinical Engineering, the technology, used to track mobile medical equipment, saved the hospital nearly $750,000 in indirect costs, as well as reducing the time spent by staff in searching for medical equipment by 96 percent.


Other benefits were noticed, researchers said, in improved clinical outcomes – driven by increased operational efficiency – and improved staff morale.

“The level of data generated by these systems has the potential to profoundly change the management of technology and the delivery of patient care,” said Barbara Christe, the lead researcher for the study team and associate professor and program director of Biomedical Engineering Technology at IUPUI.

RTLS systems like those developed by RadarFind, based in Morrisville, N.C., are being deployed in hospitals around the country to keep tabs on all kinds of medical equipment, from beds and wheelchairs to crash carts and IV stands. Such systems, employing radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, allow staff to quickly locate equipment in an emergency and cut down on wasteful uses or lost items.

According to SRMC officials involved in the study, nurses spent at least an hour a day searching for equipment before the RadarFind technology was introduced. Using the technology, the 120 nurses at the hospital were able to save the hospital roughly $750,000 in indirect costs – and use that extra hour to spend more time with their patients.

According to the study, nursing staff could do their jobs more efficiently because they could quickly find “hidden” equipment, improving both the caregiving process and nurses’ morale.

“As a former nurse I understand the frustration experienced by nursing staff when they must search for equipment,” said Joanne Anderson, president and chief executive officer of SRMC. “This technology supports our nurses and enables them to spend more time caring for patients, ensuring that our patients receive the utmost quality of care and benefiting hospital staff morale.”

In addition, the study found that clinical engineering staff reduced time spent searching for equipment from four hours a day to less than 10 minutes, while preventive maintenance for tagged equipment improved from a monthly rate of 90 percent to a consistent 100 percent. Also, the RadaFind technology – which uses a color-coded system to identify items available, in use and in need of cleaning – allowed the hospital to improve its infection control measures.

The study will be used to identify steps that hospital officials can take to increase the benefits of RTLS technology, including improving inventory processes, accuracy in billing patients and insurance companies for equipment used and storage policies for vital medical equipment. In addition, data collected by the technology can be analyzed for patient flow improvements.

“The transformational results attainable by implementing our suite of automated tracking solutions for hospitals are influencing process changes throughout the facility, as evidenced by this study,” said Michael Nelson, president of RadarFind, which was recently acquired by TeleTracking Technologies, Inc., a provider of patient flow automation solutions. “The combination of technologies from RadarFind and TeleTracking offers hospitals the most comprehensive answer to the need for tracking and accountability, and reducing unnecessary costs while improving efficiencies and overall patient care.”

“Southeastern Regional Medical Center is a model for how a clear, cooperative, synergistic relationship between hospital administrators and various clinical staff departments can support the success of a real time location system in meeting stated objectives,” added Christe.