Imagine healthcare with less uncertainty. A world where everything is where it is supposed to be. A world with Real-time locating systems (RTLS). RTLS are digital mapping systems used inside enclosed environments. RTLS serve as a cutting-edge supply chain management tool that track and monitor the locations of assets in a building or confined areas. This innovative technology has recently been applied to healthcare to achieve astounding results. Most RTLS companies use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology,where RFID chips are attached to medical equipment and doctors, nurses (and potentially patients) carry a lightweight RFID card. The chips send radio signals to geographically-oriented network receivers located at specific locations throughout the hospital. Numerous studies have found that this system offers solutions to a variety of severe, yet commonplace, problems in hospitals  (1) (2) (3); decreasing the time taken to find missing equipment and reducing hospital acquired infections (HAI) are two examples of where RTLS has been proven to improve hospital efficiency.

Equipment Finding

It has been recorded that “nursing and clinical staff spend one hour per shift searching for equipment, and biomedical engineers often spend half of their day searching for equipment to repair.(4)” In fact, Versus Tech has calculated that the average hospital loses $4,000 per day in wages looking for equipment (5). This translates to $1.46 million dollars per year wasted. RTLS-driven shorter search times will free up nurses and other resources, ultimately saving 346 nurse hours per month (6). This newly allocated free time allows medical professionals more time to focus on patient care. With practitioners being able to donate more of their time to patients, the quality of care will be inherently improved. With this time, doctors can look over a patient’s information or screening results with more careful consideration and can afford to spend more time performing procedures with increased attention and meticulousness. Additionally, medical professionals will be less rushed, reducing stress of physicians, allowing them to do their jobs more effectively.

Sanitization and Reducing Hospital Acquired Infections (HAI)

Many RTLS can enhance cleanliness and sanitization, a growing concern for hospitals. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine conducted in conjunction with the CDC, in 2011, there were 771,800 hospital-acquired infections (HAI’s), and 75,000 patients died from these infections.7 In addition to the health burden, an economic burden results from these infections as well, as the CDC “estimates the average cost of HAI’s range from $28 to $45 billion.”(7)  The easiest and most effective way for lowering the prevalence of HAI’s is through hand hygiene. However, according to a compressive study conducted by the Thomas Jefferson School of Population Health, on average, health care workers comply with washing their hands less than 50% of the time (8). Many RTLS manufacturers offer solutions that monitor the hand hygiene behaviors of health care workers. It is imperative that any medical professional working with patients cleans his or her hands before and after patient interaction. With RTLS technology, if a medical practitioner forgets or chooses not to cleanse their hands, the doctor’s RFID card will beep to remind the doctor to disinfect his or her hands. Some products have been proven to increase hand-hygiene compliance by over 250% (9). With increased compliance levels, the risk of hospital acquired infections plummets and millions of dollars in costs are saved.

It may be wise for healthcare managers to consider RTLS as a means of improving the efficiency of their health systems. By improving the organization of assets, throughput is optimized and costs are reduced. With increased sanitization, the risk of HAI’s dwindles as well. Although RTLS may seem like a futuristic, Orwellian technology at first glance, it may have the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry.

For reference:

1. Cobbley B. Easing patient flow. How an RTLS solution can help ES efficiency. Health Facil Manage. 2011; 24(12):43–44. 47.

2. Krohn R. The optimal RTLS solution for hospitals. Breaking through a complex environment. J Healthc Inf Manag. 2008; 22(4):14–15.

3. Stahl J. E., et al., Measuring process change in primary care using real-time location systems: feasibility and the results of a natural experiment. Technol Health Care. 2011;19(6):415–421.

4. “How Real-Time Is Your Hospital?” Teletrackingp., 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.

5. “Visibility™ Asset Tracking.” Hospital Asset Tracking. Versus, n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2015.

6. Meade, CM. “Round Bounty. One-hour Positively Influences Patients and Nursing Staff Members.” 2007.

7. Magill, Shelley S., Jonathan R. Edwards, Wendy Bamberg, Zintars G. Beldavs, Ghinwa Dumyati, Marion A. Kainer, Ruth Lynfield, Meghan Maloney, Laura Mcallister-Hollod, Joelle Nadle, Susan M. Ray, Deborah L. Thompson, Lucy E. Wilson, and Scott K.

8.Scott, R. Douglas. “The Direct Medical Costs of Healthcare-Associated Infections in U.S. H.” Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion National Center for Preparedness, Detection, and Control of Infectious Diseases Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(2009): n. pag. CDC. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

9.Hill-Rom. “Increasing Hand Hygiene Compliance with a Continuous Fully-Automated Monitoring System at Three Hospita.” Hill-Rom. Hill-Rom, Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

About The Author

Marc Perlman

Marc Perlman is a Junior at Union College in the Leadership in Medicine Program, an 8-year B.S., M.B.A. and M.D. joint-degree program. With a strong passion for medical entrepreneurship and healthcare management, Mr. Perlman keeps up to date on all the latest health tech news, policy, and literature. He is currently performing research on medication adherence patterns. In his free time, Mr. Perlman, competes on the debate team, is an active member of his fraternity, and serves as the local food critic.

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