RTLS in Mainstream Medical and Healthcare Environments: A Deep Dive

Chapter One: Flexible, Accurate, Fast RTLS in Hospital and Mainstream Medical Settings

Chapter Two: Using RTLS for Staff Efficiency

Chapter Three: RTLS for Your Hospital’s Bottom Line: Tracking Large and Small Equipment 

Chapter Four: What’s Next in Hospital RTLS: Hospital Operations, Billing Efficiency and More

Chapter One: Flexible, Accurate, Fast RTLS in Hospital and Mainstream Medical Settings

Real-time locating systems (RTLS) are widely used across industries, from passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags on items in warehouses to continuous signal-emitting tracking technology in high-security environments. Hospitals are increasingly adopting more dynamic, integrated RTLS to aid in patient tracking, healthcare provider efficiency, asset tracking and more. 

Hospital settings are unique in that they serve a wide range of patients with an even wider array of treatments.  In addition, hospitals themselves are what we term “complex physical environments,” meaning they feature many different building materials, complex HVAC systems, competing signals from machinery like CT scanners or X-rays, multiple floors, hallways, tunnels, commercial kitchens packed with metal… the list goes on and on. These kinds of complex environments pose difficulties for traditional RTLS solutions since many rely on outdated technology that fails to get signals where they need to go quickly and accurately, resulting in suboptimal tracking and efficiency outcomes. 

Hospital and mainstream medical settings require RTLS that quickly propagates duress or location signals even with the influence of competing and/or conflicting signals from other machinery.  Efficiently operating RTLS can have a profound impact on healthcare providers and patient safety, too. 

According to The American Journal of Managed Care, healthcare and medical workers face more workplace violence than any other profession—from verbal harassment to grabbing and assault. This level of violence can significantly impact the mental health, morale and overall job performance of healthcare providers. 

RTLS like Actall’s, which combines wearable tags with strategically placed locators, dual-band frequency and signal prioritization for duress signals, can quickly get backup where it’s needed and reduce the potential for violent interaction. What’s more, the very knowledge that healthcare providers are wearing these devices can lead to greater feelings of safety and comfort at work—helping to reduce costly churn and boost morale. 

Hospitals also require accurate tracking of equipment large and small to keep costs down. Finally, healthcare settings with a robust RTLS can make major gains in efficiency and effectiveness by tracking the movement of healthcare providers; allowing for help to quickly get where it needs to go; and encouraging key behaviors like handwashing

Chapter Two: Using RTLS for Staff Efficiency

In terms of your hospital’s bottom line, efficiency couldn’t be more important. But highly efficient RTLS operation goes far beyond monetary benefits for healthcare providers—it can boost employee morale and remove obstacles healthcare providers may face in carrying out their day-to-day functions. 

Tracking healthcare professionals isn’t about checking in on them and making sure they’re where they need to be—a common misgiving (and an understandable one) when it comes to convincing healthcare providers to wear tracking tags or badges. 

The primary function of RTLS, we’d argue, actually benefits the healthcare providers themselves: With discreet, highly portable RTLS, healthcare professionals can get a real-time glimpse into the efficiency of their rounds, where they’re spending too much of their valuable and increasingly in-demand time and ways to make their days and patient interactions more efficient and, overall, more pleasant.  

And with highly sensitive, accurate, dual-band solutions, duress or location signals won’t be trapped in rooms with dense walls, confused by competing signals or bleed from floor to floor or through walls. That translates to accurate insights into staff movements so administrators and department heads can easily track efficiency. 

RTLS that’s scalable and flexible also allows for increased or decreased coverage (or “granularity” of data) from department to department. That is to say, if a certain floor or department requires insight into each and every room for patient, equipment and staff tracking, then the density of locators will be greater to cover that area. But for larger areas, like rec rooms, outdoor spaces or cafeterias where granular coverage isn’t as important, locator density can decrease. 

Chapter Three: RTLS for Your Hospital’s Bottom Line: Tracking Large and Small Equipment

An often-cited study by Nursing Times indicated that healthcare providers spend the equivalent of one week per month looking for misplaced items. All that wasted time is bound to have an impact on morale and efficiency—not to mention lead to duplicate equipment and unnecessary additional orders. 

Combining the latest in RTLS with RFID passive tags allows healthcare providers and hospital administrators to use an existing, flexible RTLS system to track items like stethoscopes, portable ultrasounds, ventilators, even boxes of sterile gloves and masks. How? By attaching a small radio-frequency identification tag on these items, it’ll be possible to track them as they move through certain key areas, like hallways, doorways or stairwells, giving more granular insight into their location on a more regular basis. 

Think of a store that tags its inventory with passive tags that will set off an alarm if they get too close to—or pass through—the store’s entryway or exit. The concept is the same (but doesn’t necessarily include jarring alarm noises as tagged items move from place to place). 

And hospitals can attach RTLS tags to extremely high-value items, like certain surgical machines, that send out a ping on a regular basis to strategically placed locators—the same way a staff member’s badge or tag would send a ping. This offers even greater insight into the location of high-value items.

Chapter Four: What’s Next in Hospital RTLS: Hospital Operations, Billing Efficiency and More

As “smart hospitals” become more and more commonplace, we see a huge increase in the complexity of RTLS systems and their functions. 

With properly tagged items and efficient staff tracking, hospitals will be able to reduce the amount of human error in surgical settings. For example, surgeries can’t begin until every piece of necessary equipment and every provider is present. With universal adoption of both passive and active RTLS tags, things will be where they should be, when they should be there.

We also see the potential for easier, more transparent billing. If patients wear tracking tags for the duration of their visit to a healthcare setting, it’ll be easy to see which departments they visited, the treatments they received, who they interacted with and more.