For healthcare facilities, real-time location services (RTLS) were initially established on premise for patient safety to later become a priority in mainstreaming operations, improving patient care and experience and employee satisfaction.
Originally introduced to the industry as a security-centric measure to protect newborns, and prevent infant abduction, RTLS was a simple solution that has been effective, and facilities began to see a number of additional benefits. But it required a lot of infrastructure around it.
As these facilities expanded the use of RTLS to meet their specific needs, they found that they were stuck using the same expensive and complex infrastructure. Fast forward a decade and executives began asking whether the system they were sold is actually doing everything they were promised. Expectations were high and performance low. What exactly is the ROI for RTLS?
I think the three paragraphs above need to be rewritten.
Addressing Facilities Management Pain Points
Healthcare facilities have the same common pain points and are always looking for solutions to solve these challenges, and not often are they affordable. This leaves facilities managers weighing options and unwilling to take an expensive risk to deploy a system with no guarantees of performance and often with a high cost of upgrades. Lack of affordability, deprives facilities managers from considering potential solutions for their existing/real problems
In healthcare specifically, RTLS has been proven effective at improving patient care coordination, patient engagement and improving overall operations management.
Care Coordination – Reports show that nurses and staff can spend up to an hour trying to locate key items and supplies for patient care. RTLS provides an ease of asset tracking – supplies and equipment – that can reduce that time and, instead, help staff focus on patient care. Moreover, it can provide more safety to staff who may be in duress with a patient.
RTLS can also help nurses provide better care by tracking food orders, tests, etc. from the nurse’s station to ensure that the patient’s needs are being met, and if they’re not they can take the immediate steps to do so.
Patient Engagement – As healthcare institutions and systems grow in physical size, these facilities can improve the patient experience in several ways using RTLS,
– Indoor wayfinding to help patients reach their destination inside the building while
– Patient tracking within an ER can provide valuable data on the length of patient wait time and how long doctors spend with a patient.
Overall, RTLS improves the patient experience and also their sentiment on the facility/system overall, which can lead to positive online reviews, crucial to communications and marketing managers.
Operations Management – RTLS can offer building and facilities managers tremendous insight into the needs of the facility, how it operates, what problems need to be addressed and ultimately lead to better decision making and operations efficiency.
For example, RTLS can,
– Provide information on temperature and dust within a facility and track water leaks, while giving managers information on what repairs are being made and when
– Provide asset utilization points and make purchases for what is exactly needed and only when needed, thereby reducing the cost of purchasing unnecessary equipment and supplies
– More accurately track assets and inventory within the facility which is useful for stakeholders such as nurses and biomedical engineering (e.g., during periodic maintenance check-ups)
– Reduce missed patient appointments rates by issuing reminders that take current location into account
These are just some of the benefits of deploying a RTLS.
Current Solutions and Widespread RTLS Adoption
Today’s RTLS solutions are expensive systems using both customized hardware and software. They are pricey to install, require extra time and money to train staff and can degrade over time, leading to expensive upgrades.
While healthcare facilities and systems managers understand the value of RTLS, and its impact on operations, productivity, loss prevention and employee and consumer satisfaction, the budget to deploy it won’t budge, leaving facilities without deep pockets to choose between what pain point to budget for today. This reduces the industry’s overall ability to promote widespread adoption of the technology for the benefit of all.
But there is a solution.
By rethinking today’s RTLS from hardware and software to simply software as a Service (or SaaS) the doors to widespread adoption will fling open. Facilities that see RTLS as “a luxury” or “something nice to have” yet have concerns over the return on investment can now afford to subscribe to RTLS software rather than take on the expense of a custom-built infrastructure. An expense that must then be returned to patients.
RTLS as SaaS for Widespread Adoption
In truth, every healthcare system has different needs. The debate over hardware versus software, and the tradeoff between the combination of these, comes down to different systems for different facility needs. In many healthcare facilities, software that lives entirely on the building’s current infrastructure, or requires a minimal infrastructure add-on, can provide tremendous value versus not having the benefits of RTLS at all.
With a focus on software, the cost and maintenance of a facility’s RTLS is far less with software upgrades happening automatically and at no additional expense. Whereas highly custom-built RTLS can require ongoing maintenance and upgrades that add on to the original cost of the system. It can even require its own onsite team to keep the system running smoothly.
The affordability of software-centric RTLS is further supported by using off the shelf radio tags – including RFID and Bluetooth Low Energy – over custom tags designed for a specific proprietary system. Most importantly it provides an ease of use that any nurse, patient or facility manager can intuitively understand and adopt.
One of the major concerns about RTLS using off-the-shelf infrastructure is that it is less accurate or reliable than a custom-built solution, but that is untrue. Machine learning (ML) approaches and access to inexpensive computation horsepower offer unique and novel ways to solve problems that were once difficult or required more infrastructure in the past.
As an example, GPS fails to propagate well inside buildings; thus, indoor wayfinding represents an ongoing frustration for staff and patients. Until now, there has been no way to provide accurate service without a significant investment. Now, a combination of beacons and ML can substitute service within buildings.
Rethinking RTLS using modern technology, opens the door to all healthcare facilities to access and reap the benefits of affordable and accurate wayfinding and indoor tracking leading not to just better operations, as noted, but also improved patient care and experience and employee satisfaction, which can also play a part in retention.
In the past, if a facility wanted RTLS, they had to invest in both hardware and software, and they were stuck with that system even if it didn’t work as expected after three years. Whereas Software as a Service It lives and works on a facility’s current infrastructure, providing flexibility and affordability. It is Location as a Service with an annual fee, free upgrades, strong accuracy and easy to deploy.
Widespread adoption of RTLS throughout the healthcare industry is real and accessible, and it will happen quickly. Using today’s technology and rethinking the key to RTLS as software means that thousands of healthcare facilities can now afford to deploy RTLS and enjoy its many benefits to facility, patients and staff. Making it as easy as subscribing to Microsoft Office.
About Mohammed Smadi
Mohammed Smadi is the managing director of PenguinIN, where he leads the business and technical development of opportunistic, managed indoor positioning solutions. Prior to PenguinIN, Mohammed founded Karmatix, a telematics-based loyalty program where he coined the term “road-as-a-service”. He was also a principal researcher at BlackBerry driving Quality of Experience over WiFi and co-founder of ErgoWiFi: technology provider for solar-powered WiFi mesh access points. Mohammed holds +25 granted/pending patents in addition to authoring several refereed papers and book chapters. He has a PhD, M.A.Sc and B.Eng. & Mgmt. from McMaster University’s ECE where he is currently an adjunct assistant professor.