Hospitals are using the current generation of real-time location systems to do more than locate things, or even people. While only 10 to 15 percent of hospitals have an RTLS installed, according to a survey released last year by KLAS Research, Orem, Utah, they're using the data generated by the systems to reform workflows--saving time, money, construction costs, and the need to hire extra staff. They're even increasing the efficiency of collecting co-pays at discharge.
Jay Deady, CEO of RTLS vendor Awarepoint, San Diego, estimates that with EHR integration, equipment tracking, and people tracking, a fully implemented RTLS can save an institution between $3 and $7 for every dollar invested. About 190 hospitals have Awarepoint's technology installed, and they have seen a return on areas ranging from ED throughput to infection prevention, he says.
"We can track the workflow and see if a piece of equipment hasn't been cleaned properly and is about to go into a patient's room," Deady says. "It's not the fault of the caregiver, who found it in the clean equipment area. But our system can fire alerts and get the equipment out of the room before the patient is infected." He says about 20 percent of equipment is not properly cleaned between uses.
Location systems can automatically document intervals of time: when a patient was put in a waiting room, how long until the triage nurse visited, when the patient was moved to radiology or an inpatient bed. "We do all that tracking behind the scenes," Deady says. If a milestone isn't completed or is taking longer than usual, it's tracked both retrospectively, to help fix chronic workflow problems, and in real time, so that staff can intervene for the patient.
Jim Stilley, director of clinical workflow consulting for Versus, Traverse City, Mich., and former CEO at Northwest Michigan Surgery Center, says RTLS can help establish consistency. Before taking his position at Versus, Stilley supervised the installation of the company's RTLS at the surgery center. "Too many times we'd develop a perfect process, but trying to validate that it was done the same way every time was very difficult," he says. Northern Michigan did baseline data collection by having everyone wear the tags for a while. Then Stilley worked with the staff to develop better processes, and used the RTLS to show everyone exactly where they had saved time using the new process. "People are distrustful of management, so you have to communicate the advantages," he says.
In Elizabeth Gardner’s feature story in the March issue of Health Data Management, “Locating the Value of RTLS,” four hospitals share how the technology changed the way they work.
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