Tracking system enables facility to be aware of staff whereabouts

Most hospitals struggle to keep track of their hospital equipment and devices, which can be hidden away in various nooks and crannies of a facility.

Most hospitals struggle to keep track of their hospital equipment and devices, which can be hidden away in various nooks and crannies of a facility.

That problem can be exponentially more difficult when trying to keep track of mobile hospital staff as they walk the halls and care for patients.

Now, software is being used to help solve the vexing problem of coordinating indoor hospital logistics. It draws together an electronic floor print of a hospital, its wireless network and Apple’s indoor positioning system.

When that technology is combined, it provides real-time visualization and location of staff who carry iPhones equipped with an app from Novatrack. The technology enables managers to monitor staff location from a traffic control center; it also enables them to communicate with them through text messaging.

The indoor tracking system was developed at the Henry Ford Innovations (HFI) center in Detroit for use in hospitals. The innovations arm of Henry Ford Health System was started in 2011—since then, it signed 30 licensing agreements representing $350 million in future revenue, HFI executives say.

Earlier this month, HFI signed an exclusive licensing agreement to market the Novatrack technology with NAVV Systems, a Detroit-based startup company. The intent is to develop and commercialize its intellectual assets.

Novatrack can be compared with GPS for its functionality. It focuses on coordinating staff without communicating patient information, to protect information for privacy and security reasons.

Novatrack is the brainchild of two Henry Ford Health team members—Paul Zieske, program manager of location services in Information Technology, and Daniel Siegal, MD, vice chair of the Department of Radiology. Zieske introduced the concept about five years ago.

After completing the fellowship, Zieske and Siegal built a prototype and, with the backing of hospital leadership, began testing it in October 2018 with patient transport and housekeeping services at Henry Ford Hospital, the health system's flagship hospital.

It is now being expanded for use in inpatient pharmacy and soon in inpatient food delivery services. In 2020, the software is also planned for use at Henry Ford's other four acute-care hospitals in Clinton Township, Jackson, West Bloomfield and Wyandotte.

"The concept we're using to describe this is traffic control for healthcare," says Zieske, who early in his career worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and installed radar systems at airports. "It shows the very precise location of workers and a little call-out with their name on the screen and the floor that they're on."

Siegal says the technology could be a game changer in healthcare because of its process improvement capability. "Now you have the ability to (use GPS) indoors (with Novatrack)," he says. "This is a tool to help end users be more efficient."

The ability to track mobility services like patient transport and housekeeping in real-time allows hospitals to look for opportunities to improve routine tasks, routes and their coordination, Siegal adds.

Zieske and Siegal emphasized that Novatrack is not intended to monitor staff's whereabouts in a Big Brother way. "We've been very open about it with staff," Zieske says. "The reason we are tracking them is we want to improve safety and efficiency."

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