Article

Taking Medical Asset Tracking to the Next Level With RTLS

With real-time location systems, hospital equipment tracking is just a click away. As hospitals continue to feel cost pressures, health systems are turning to modern-day RTLS applications to help them get their assets and expenses under control.

In a hospital, mobile assets like wheelchairs or patient monitors are like car keys. They get a lot of use, they go wherever you go, and you can never find them when you need them. And just like there are personal technologies to find lost keys, so too are there enterprise systems that can track down misplaced medical equipment.

Such technologies are called real-time location systems (RTLS). These systems have the potential to make big bottom-line impacts in helping hospitals track down assets that are lost, stolen, hidden, or hoarded.

In the two decades since RTLS emerged in hospital settings, they’ve made leaps and bounds in size, scale, and cost: Original RTLS solutions were larger, hardwired, more expensive, and presented unique challenges for day-to-day workflows. As a result, only 15 to 20 percent1 of hospitals had them, despite their potential to save time, right-size inventories, and trim up to millions of dollars in capital and maintenance costs.

But as RTLS technologies continue to advance into less cumbersome and more practical versions of their predecessors, those adoption numbers will likely rise—amounting to much-needed cost savings in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment.

What is RTLS Hospital Tracking?

In general RTLS is any system that 'geo-locates' certain targets, such as people or objects. Broadly speaking, RTLS technology has long been deployed with success across industries, such as with trucking companies or to track retail inventories.

For hospitals, in particular, RTLS helps staff find misplaced medical equipment such as infusion pumps or mobile ultrasounds—a much-needed feature as mobile inventories are particularly vulnerable to getting moved, hoarded, or altogether misplaced.

“With RTLS, we’re able to see in real time where this equipment is located and how frequently it’s being utilized,” said Steven Bodily, Chief Operating Officer, Supply Chain at Bon Secours Mercy Health. Mercy Health’s RTLS-enabled healthcare technology management program yielded almost $13 million in operational savings and nearly doubled the system’s mobile asset utilization rate.2

RFID vs. BLE for Medical Asset Tracking

Prior iterations of hospital RTLS were largely based on radio-frequency identification (RFID), a technology that relies on radio waves and manufactured chips to help track certain objects wherever they are.

Over time, RTLS technologies have evolved greatly. Specifically, RTLS is beginning to adapt Bluetooth® low energy (BLE).  BLE-enabled RTLS relies on a Wi-Fi network to wirelessly locate and track assets, rather than radio waves. With BLE-enabled RTLS, homing signals pass through walls and other obstructions without interfering with other wireless communications or medical equipment.

Benefits of RTLS for Health Systems

Accessibility has made RTLS solutions all the more attractive for hospital leaders, but affordability—especially in regard to installation and ramp-up costs—has also piqued their attention for newer BLE models.

When it's wireless, as modern-day systems are, installation can take place in days, not months, and save up to 60 percent in capital and setup costs.1

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RTLS Technology in Healthcare: Informing Business Decisions

RTLS hospital tracking has obvious benefits for streamlining equipment fleets so that they spend more time in service and less time lost, but there are greater operational implications, too. For example, the usage data from RTLS technologies can help hospital leaders make more informed decisions about when, where, and how often assets are used—and even determine whether some items (whether owned or rented) are needed at all.

Labor and resourcing costs factor in as well, as does the impact on the patient experience: With nurses spending more time at the bedside and less time tracking down assets, the bottom-line benefits of those efficiencies help improve operations, nurse morale, and most importantly, patient care.

All told, the advantages of modern-day RTLS applications—that of shoring up inventories, saving time, and cutting expenses without the burden of hardwired installation—have led some health systems to adopt the enterprise technology for their facilities, with more to come.3 As hospitals continue to feel cost-cutting pressures, the investment can pay dividends right off the bat, and then sustain those savings for years to come.

References:

  1. Encompass: Simple, Fast, Flexible, Cost-Efficient: A New Paradigm in Real-Time Location Systems. GE Healthcare. https://www.gehealthcare.com/-/media/41fcb863255342a88ad01d3e680b034b.pdf. Accessed Sep. 12, 2019.
  2. Transformation: From Break-Fix Maintenance to Comprehensive Healthcare Technology Management Program. GE Healthcare. https://www.gehealthcare.com//-/jssmedia/e04346dab0864fcb91046039c537426b.pdf. Accessed Sep. 12, 2019.
  3. RTLS Applications Continue to Evolve. American Society for Health Care Engineering of the American Hospital Association. https://www.hfmmagazine.com/articles/3350-rtls-applications-continue-to-evolve. Accessed Sep. 12, 2019.