Cost saving, real-time location systems (RTLS) are steadily gaining attention as an important strategic tool for hospitals due to a variety business advantages. Chief among them, the ability to run leaner inventories, improve clinical workflows and efficiency, as well as prevent the loss or misplacement of critical assets through the instant visibility of assets RTLS provides.
The question is no longer whether to implement RTLS, but which RTLS technology is best suited for the many applications that can benefit from hospital-wide location awareness. To obtain maximum benefit, 5 critical factors have been identified to help ensure long term success of your RTLS investment.
1. Enterprise-Wide Coverage
Knowing the location, status and movement of equipment and people provides valuable information to reduce expenses and increase productivity. To achieve maximum benefit, your RTLS deployment should cover every square inch of your enterprise. Why? Because assets and people move throughout your entire enterprise. Limiting coverage to a specific department or zone may seem like the right thing to do, but this restricted coverage simply will not provide the greatest ROI.
A system that covers specific areas or departments only will quickly lose its effectiveness and impact early adoption as well as success with RTLS. Without it, RTLS will never fully be integrated into the fabric of your organization to optimally impact productivity, workflow and true value innovation.
2. Persistent Location Accuracy
Today's technology advances in RTLS mean you don't have to sacrifice time to deployment or incur increased costs to achieve room level accuracy. In RTLS today, room level accuracy is the minimum standard; but, "room level" can be a misnomer. Your RTLS must provide accuracy with the 4 walls of an enclosed room - but your entire facility is not comprised of rooms only. What happens when an asset leaves a room and travels through the hallways and corridors of your enterprise?
Before adopting an RTLS solution, consider how it will perform throughout your entire enterprise - in hallways, open areas, corridors, etc. To truly drive value innovation, dozens of applications demand this level of accuracy. Crucial applications for hospitals include patient flow, equipment tracking, OR throughput, patient safety and staff productivity.
Zone Level versus Room Level Accuracy
Some enter the RTLS market with the assumption that zone level accuracy is "good enough". Zone level accuracy may report the asset location on the correct floor, or within a cluster of rooms. However, room-level accuracy locates a person or asset in an exact room. To affect the highest impact for your strategic initiatives, room level accuracy is a clear critical success factor.
Room level accuracy outperforms zone level in each of these hospital applications due to its ability to report specific real time location data.
Knowing the exact location of a patient or asset helps to determine costly bottlenecks and improves throughput efficiency. Knowing that a patient moves from the hospital patient care floor to the surgery department holding area within 10 minutes; spends 50 minutes within the holding area before being transported to the Operating Room (when the average holding time is 20 minutes); spends 45 minutes in the Operating Room before being transferred to Post Anesthesia Recovery (PAR); then spends 30 minutes in PAR before being transferred back to the patient care floor is detailed information that can only be offered with room level accuracy. This data can help pinpoint specific bottlenecks, improve throughput and efficiency to the hospital's OR schedule if bottlenecks can be addressed and eliminated.
Employees spend an excessive amount of time searching for equipment when it is not where it's supposed to be. Searching multiple rooms within a zone takes precious time, and in healthcare, can delay treatment for a patient in need or the clinician's availability to efficiently accomplish additional duties. For this reason, it is important to be able to find equipment as quickly as possible. Room level accuracy eliminates searching multiple rooms or large areas, and allows staff to retrieve equipment immediately.
Active alerting can be configured to send alerts based upon specified rules. Location accuracy, however, is important for this feature to work properly. For instance, a staff member can be notified if a piece of equipment has left a specific room or a physician can determine when a patient is in their room. With room level accuracy, this feature is much more flexible, efficient and impactful.
Persistent accuracy in rooms, hallways, storage closets and open areas maximizes your ROI.
3. Minimally Invasive Installation & Maintenance
Installation considerations are a main factor in both the cost and ongoing success of your RTLS deployment. Finding a minimally invasive solution that does not compromise your existing information technology network, does not interrupt daily business operations, and can be installed in days or weeks, not months or years, is vital.
Network requirements for installation of RTLS systems vary greatly. In order for real-time tracking to occur, an RTLS network first needs to be established. This network is comprised of access points, sometimes referred to as sensors, receivers, readers or detectors, placed strategically throughout a building to accurately locate asset tags. How these network access points are installed and the potential for facility disruption during the process are important considerations. Many RTLS networks require that access points are hard-wired. In order to accomplish a hard-wired installation, holes are drilled in ceilings or walls, or ceiling tiles are removed and replaced, in order to run cable and pull power for each access point. In some cases, this hard-wired infrastructure is required in each room to accomplish room level accuracy. This can be extremely disruptive, labor intensive, time consuming and expensive. Most of these hard-wired systems require complex planning, coordination and calibration before, during and after installation.
How your RTLS adapts to changes in the environment must also be considered. Combined with the initial cost to pull power and network cabling to a new or repositioned access point, a hard-wired, non-flexible network adds substantial financial investment to your system in the long term.
The potential impact of Network Interference and Security should also be considered when planning an RTLS deployment within your enterprise. Leveraging existing Wi-Fi infrastructure is often touted as a suitable solution. However, not only is location accuracy typically limited to zone level with Wi-Fi deployment interference, network traffic and security concerns can also present challenges.
Your Wi-Fi information system network is dedicated to supporting and maintaining many vital systems. It's important to select technology that cannot compromise the integrity of your enterprise network or adversely
affect mission critical applications. It is important to consider an RTLS system that utilizes its own dedicated network and maintains separation from other business applications. Doing so insures that other dependent systems cannot interfere with your critical applications.
Time to Deployment
Considering that immediate benefits are achieved the minute your RTLS goes LIVE, installation time is a critical measureable also. Why delay your return on investment? Each day an RTLS installation is delayed equates to lost savings for your enterprise. What are the lost opportunity costs in weeks, months, or even years, when the GO-LIVE date is delayed due to extensive infrastructure involvement and planning, regulatory issues and calibration requirements and dependency, over taxation or interference of the same system to support multiple modalities?
4. Standards-based Interoperability
An RTLS is not only comprised of hardware and software, but of service and maintenance. It shouldn't take a team of your IT professionals to keep the system running. It's important to understand the time and money involved in maintaining your RTLS at peak performance. Look for a service model that is monitored 24/7, provides ongoing system maintenance and data back-up. Be sure to understand and consider maintenance costs that may affect your budget or impact your internal staff.
Tracking assets is where your RTLS starts, not ends. Your RTLS should be supported by standards-based technology. To provide the greatest flexibility, your RTLS platform should offer an open API (Application Programming Interface) so that it's capable of providing location and status data to both your end-users and to third party applications. Fully interoperable RTLS should be able to seamlessly integrate with other software systems which can be enriched with real-time location information. Proprietary systems, not supported by standards based technology or an open API will limit your ability to fully leverage your RTLS.
5. Low Risk
Your hospital enterprise is a dynamic environment with unique needs. Partner with an RTLS vendor that is vested in your success. Look for a flexible business model that removes barriers to entry - one that doesn't require a large capital purchase or long-term contractual commitment, and allows you to easily expand assets as needed.
By recognizing and addressing the 5 RTLS Critical Success Factors, you'll insure the best probability for maximizing your return on investment, ensure the long term success of your system and truly drive value innovation to achieve both your short-term tactical and long term strategic goals.
Skytron Asset Manager, powered by Awarepoint's ZigBee based RF mesh network technology, can be easily installed enterprise-wide by simply plugging sensors into standard wall outlets and correlating them with known positions on hospital floor plans. The installation of these types of sensors can be done without disruption - even in occupied hospital patient rooms, heavy traffic areas, or other sensitive locations.
Skytron Asset Manager, powered by Awarepoint, arguably provides the most efficient solution for addressing both the economic and technical requirements associated with delivering real-time location awareness. Skytron Asset Manager RTLS is well suited to high performance within dynamic, technologically and operationally challenging hospital environments.