RTLS and Health Care Operations: Hand Hygiene, Asset Tracking and More

By Bill Edge

Here’s a simple fact: People aren’t going to do exactly what you want them to do 100% of the time. That’s a great thing to keep in mind for relationships and in managing individuals. But when the things that people choose not to do — handwashing in hospital settings, for example — impact other people, that poses a problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care professionals, on average, clean their hands less than half the number of times that they should on any given day. Does that mean they don’t care about their patients? Absolutely not. But it does mean that adoption of this simple but incredibly impactful habit may need additional reinforcement. 

Adoption of certain procedural habits is really hard to quantify, control and promote without constant supervision, which is terrible for morale and impossible from an operations standpoint.

One future-focused solution that is already a feature in many smart hospitals is leveraging real-time locating systems (RTLS) to make tracking certain behaviors easier for both staff and management. We’ll explore how RTLS can be customized to encourage handwashing, track assets and introduce more overall efficiencies in health care settings. 

RTLS, Return on Investment and Hospital Operations

A hospital’s small assets — such as surgical sponges, scalpels and small heart monitors — can be difficult to track or monitor for budget efficiency because of their size, contamination risk or even differences in preference from health care provider to health care provider in usage rates. One surgeon may use significantly more sponges than the next; one hospital wing’s staff may keep several additional heart monitors if they treat significantly more patients who have heart issues, and so on.

Misplacing or ineffectively tracking larger, more expensive items — such as X-ray machines, wheelchairs, respirators and portable ultrasounds — can have a serious impact on bottom lines. Often, hospitals will lease items they already have but can’t find because of ineffective tracking protocols. 

Usage, waste, lost items and other issues impact hospitals’ bottom lines significantly, and the cost of lost and wasted goods is, ultimately, passed along to patients while causing headaches for hospital administration. 

Leveraging tracking tags and strategically placed locators can help health care facilities do many things: track high-value equipment; more effectively monitor stocks and locations of disposable items such as gloves and sponges; and reduce their spending and waste overall. 

Also, effective tracking will help health care professionals save time looking for common items or necessary equipment, which can ultimately help boost morale and improve hospital operations overall. 

RTLS and Handwashing 

Effectively monitoring and encouraging handwashing, since doing so relies on external factors, poses a little more of a challenge. Right now, tagging every sink, soap dispenser, towel dispenser and more is really expensive. But at Actall, we have some creative solutions that we have already implemented in health care settings across North America

For example, we can place proximity readers and locators above sinks to get more-accurate readings of the use of handwashing stations. These readers and locators work with tracking tags or badges that staffers already wear for a more seamless adjustment in operations. This is an emerging capability of RTLS, and we’re proud to be on the forefront.

Choosing RTLS: Where to Begin

Ready to get started? We recommend beginning with a facility-wide audit of key patient-interaction areas, areas of high traffic and areas of high risk, where handwashing is even more crucial. Areas in emergency rooms and in and near operating rooms are commonly identified as critical areas in these initial audits, but gaps in the availability of handwashing stations or effective monitoring in even lower-priority areas, where patients aren’t critically ill, can pose serious operational issues. 

And for asset tracking, identifying key items that always seem to be in short supply and auditing your purchasing patterns over time are, together, an excellent starting point. 

It’s also important to get a solid understanding of your staff’s baseline behavior as it relates to things such as handwashing or time spent finding key equipment. 
Once you have those pieces in place, start to research different companies. Remember that nobody has a perfect solution for tracking handwashing or assets in health care settings — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A good indication? If an RTLS provider doesn’t allow you to try a solution before you buy it, send them packing — that’s just our 2 cents.