RTLS Technology and Staff Efficiency: How to Improve Your Hospital’s Operations (and Bottom Line)

By Bill Edge, VP of Sales, Canada

A real-time locating system (RTLS) is essential in locating and tracking patients, staff and equipment assets in hospital settings. But beyond its cut-and-dry function as a tracking method, RTLS is also being used to improve operational efficiency, helping reduce time spent by staff looking for essential items and ensuring healthcare workers are empowered by efficiency in their rounds, in interactions with patients and more.

With advancements such as AI, robotics, precision medicine and 3-D printing defining the smart hospitals of today and tomorrow, RTLS’s role is more important than ever. We’ll explore the various applications of RTLS in hospital settings, including tracking people, tracking assets and what’s on the horizon.

Why Should You Track People in Healthcare Settings?

First and foremost, RTLS when used for tracking people in healthcare settings allows for quick response and precise locating should an incident occur.

Workplace violence against nurses, doctors and other healthcare providers is on the rise, owing in part to the fear and anxiety that hospital settings and illnesses can spark in patients. With an aging population and more access to healthcare (despite the long road ahead), there’s a correspondingly greater chance for violent incidents. An RTLS solutions like Actall’s can propagate duress signals in any complex physical environment and won’t be drowned out by competing signals from hospital machinery, like CT machines or X-rays. This means duress and location signals reach receiver gateways in seconds, getting assistance where it’s most needed—and helping avoid serious injury or worse.

Secondly, tracking patients and staff helps improve patient care standards. Patients are given the attention they need, when they need it, while moving quickly and efficiently through an appointment or healthcare interaction. A locator tag, such as in a wristband, can be used to track a patient’s movements as they make their way through a hospital setting to an appointment or procedure. Staff can clearly see where patients are at all times, meaning they’re able to provide an appropriate level of care.

RTLS can also be used to monitor the density of nursing staff in any one area, ensuring there are enough healthcare professionals in one area or another to provide top-notch care to patients.

Why Should You Track Things in Healthcare Settings?

A survey by Nursing Times demonstrated that nurses spend approximately one week per month looking for equipment and supplies. Study after study has shown that deploying RTLS technology or passive tagging can dramatically reduce that number, allowing nurses and other healthcare providers to do their jobs more efficiently and avoid the frustration of searching for lost or difficult-to-find items.

Accurate asset tracking—and in hospital settings, we mean stethoscopes, surgical machines, wheelchairs, portable ultrasounds, ventilators and similar equipment—can help hospitals keep their inventory in check and properly understand that inventory. The money saved by avoiding the purchase or lease of even a few extraneous high-value pieces of equipment means that RTLS used for asset tracking can quickly show its ROI.

What’s On the Horizon for RTLS in Healthcare?

People typically think of RTLS and radio-frequency identification (RFID) as two separate entities. RFID is a passive tracker used to track assets, equipment and products in many types of environments—think of the RFID tags you’ll find on books in a Barnes and Noble, for example. And then there’s active tracking, in which buttons or tags actively emit signals to locators at regular intervals to allow for real-time tracking. This technology is more often found in healthcare settings as a staff duress solution.

What we see happening in the future is a combination of passive and active tracking simultaneously, leveraging the best of both technologies. Here’s an example: According to a study originally published in the British Medical Journal, over a third of operating-room errors stem from the absence of crucial equipment.

But if a smart hospital is tracking each and every piece of necessary equipment with passive tags, and is tracking staff and patients with active tags, it won’t be possible to start surgery without the right equipment and people when and where they’re supposed to be. Leveraging these technologies will cut down on the potential for human error and improve patient outcomes across the board.

In addition to improving care standards by appropriately tracking patients throughout their entire healthcare encounter, patient tracking can make billing and post-visit summaries much simpler and more streamlined. With accurate tracking, bills can reflect precisely how much time patients spent in an area, which care provider they spoke with and the care they received. These encounters can update in real-time, allowing for clarity and transparency in healthcare encounters.

When it comes to using RTLS to improve hospital operations and bottom lines, there’s no question that the future holds a lot of promise. At Actall, we’re excited to see what’s next—and to help healthcare providers and hospitals find the RTLS solutions they need to thrive in the future of healthcare.