Christopher Thompson

RTLS data across the healthcare enterprise

May 06, 2021
By Christopher Thompson

In the ongoing quest to enhance healthcare operations and patient outcomes, healthcare organizations are prioritizing efforts to improve how they collect and leverage data. Comprehensive and accurate data acquisition is a key foundational component of data analytics, which can lead to better decision-making and help reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies as well as the patient, staff, and visitor experience.

Real-time location systems (RTLS) provide an effective method for automating the collection of location-based data. Automated data collection reduces human error and frees up staff time to be spent on more valuable and complex tasks, such as patient care. In addition, most RTLS platforms support automated reporting, which can streamline compliance documentation.

Leveraging data for RTLS analytics
The value of an RTLS installation extends beyond automated data collection; it also offers meaningful analytics to inform a wide variety of improvements. When integrated with other data sources, such as electronic health records or enterprise resource planning systems, aggregate data provides a comprehensive view of activities across the entire healthcare enterprise. This allows administrators to spot trends and uncover actionable insights.

A recent example of the power of aggregate data: many healthcare organizations have combined their RTLS data with other information to support their fight against COVID-19. Several organizations have been able to implement contact tracing programs that use historical location data to create on-demand, near real-time interaction reports detailing patients, staff, visitors, and even equipment that have come in contact with a person infected with the virus - and for how long.

Healthcare organizations are also leveraging integrated RTLS automated monitoring solutions to comply with state and federal vaccine storage requirements. Real-time environmental monitoring sensors can be configured to trigger immediate alerts when temperatures fall outside of set parameters, prompting the closest appropriate staff members to take action to avoid unnecessary loss.

Asset tracking and PAR-level management
One of the most popular uses of RTLS in healthcare settings is asset tracking. Utilizing RTLS smart tags, facilities can better manage equipment to ensure assets are available and clean when and where they are needed and to prevent overspending on unnecessary equipment. Key to the management of equipment is the establishment and management of unit-based PAR levels.

Often hospitals and other healthcare facilities rely on staff to manually maintain PAR levels for mobile medical equipment and essential supplies. Manual PAR level management, however, often involves using intuition or current stock levels to make ordering decisions. It is prone to human error and uses significant staff time that could be better leveraged somewhere else.

On the other hand, by incorporating RTLS solutions into PAR-level processes, healthcare systems gain access to invaluable usage data that provides a more accurate account of current and future needs. Automated PAR-level inventory management solutions generate reports that show which assets are needed at what locations and how often, along with asset movement and history.

This provides administrators with better insights into equipment utilization, which improves ordering accuracy, supports better planning, and reduces costs. For example, Wake Forest Baptist Health saves more than $5 million per year using asset management solutions to streamline inventory and avoid purchasing or renting redundant equipment.

In addition, these systems can alert staff if the minimum quantity of a given asset is reached, triggering a request to restock. This ensures that medical devices critical to patient care are readily available when and where they are needed. It also reduces the likelihood of over or under ordering equipment, thus helping to avoid the costs associated with rush orders and unnecessary procurement.

Hand hygiene monitoring for compliance
Over the last year, COVID-19 has increased interest in RTLS applications related to infection control, as they had already been shown to effectively reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Prior to the pandemic, infection preventionists (IPs) and other healthcare leaders around the world were using RTLS to monitor differential air pressure in ORs and isolation units and improve rates of hand hygiene compliance.

Electronic hand hygiene solutions automate the monitoring of handwashing events using sensors attached to dispensers, canisters, pumps, and sinks. These sensors identify opportunities when a hand hygiene event should occur and then record staff compliance with the organization’s infection prevention protocols. Hand hygiene compliance rules are customizable to capture specific hand hygiene events, such as when a staff member enters and exists the patient room.

The most sophisticated solutions only record handwashing events when a dispenser is used in the presence of a staff badge, protecting the integrity of the handwashing data. The data is then compiled into reports to help develop improvement strategies, such as focusing on retraining where it is needed most, and meet audit and documentation requirements. Some electronic hand hygiene systems can also provide a gentle, real-time reminder to staff members who have missed a compliance event before their interaction with a patient.

Not only do hand hygiene monitoring systems help instill best practices in staff, improving compliance rates mitigates one of the most common sources of costly HAIs – poor hand hygiene. Prior to the pandemic, Denver Health implemented the technology and improved adherence with hand hygiene policies by more than 70%. Another independent study conducted by three healthcare systems found that using electronic hand hygiene monitoring solutions helped improve their collective compliance rates, on average, by more than 80%.

These results are possible because automated systems provide impartial information for healthcare administrators and IPs, which can be used to accurately identify strengths and weaknesses related to hand hygiene compliance and strategies for addressing non-compliance. Implementing this technology also provides facilities with robust reporting that can help meet or exceed expectations during accreditation visits, such as those conducted by the Joint Commission or State Department of Health.

Clinical workflow optimization
Another valuable application of RTLS data is the ability to track and optimize clinical workflows. The information generated by monitoring and analyzing clinical workflows can inform operational improvements, reducing the burden placed on staff while enabling clinicians to lower patient wait times, increase bed turnover, and more. Oregon Medical Group’s outpatient facility transformed their patient experience using RTLS, reducing patient wait times by 75% and increasing time spent with medical staff by 50%.

RTLS automates the collection and documentation of patient and staff activities to provide an unparalleled level of real-time situational awareness. The resulting aggregate data can be used to track and report key metrics, like patient throughput, and identify trends and bottlenecks impacting the delivery of patient care. For example, historical data can help predict future staffing needs to optimize the use of a facility’s workforce and ensure the facility is properly staffed in relation to anticipated patient volume.

Managing risk and measuring change
RTLS is a strategic investment, one that requires the buy-in and coordination of multiple departments. Not only should healthcare leaders have access to training and support to take full advantage of RTLS benefits, the system must be carefully designed, installed, and evaluated to drive meaningful change.

RTLS adoption should begin with an assessment period that uses lean methodologies for process analysis and improvement and defines exactly how location data will be used to augment or enhance workflows. This period will lay the foundation for developing an effective implementation strategy (including the selection of location technologies, such as infrared, BLE, or WiFi) and establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with the strategic initiatives of the organization.

In addition to measuring the realized impact of an RTLS implementation, KPIs provide a sense of transparency and objectivity, while regular, on-going review periods will help reinforce accountability and drive a culture of continuous improvement throughout the organization. Experienced partners can help project leaders execute this sort of approach to ensure the greatest possible return on investment.

Looking ahead: The future of RTLS
The healthcare industry’s use of RTLS technology is expanding quickly, and yet, we are just scratching the surface of what RTLS can do. Artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to enhance analytics capabilities and expand the impact of RTLS healthcare solutions in the coming years. Soon we will be able to combine RTLS solutions with predictive analytics algorithms to provide real-time, automated recommendations.

Real-time location systems provide healthcare leaders with the sort of data and analytics necessary to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve patient outcomes and employee satisfaction. Investing in a flexible and comprehensive solution provider that offers multiple technologies, a robust integration engine, and a team to help guide and optimize an RTLS implementation means being able to build a successful system today – and being ready to take advantage of new applications as they emerge.

About the author: Christopher Thompson, MSN, RN, is the director of clinical transformation at CenTrak, the market leader in locating, sensing, and security solutions for the healthcare industry and a visionary in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for indoor location services. CenTrak has helped more than 2,000 healthcare organizations around the world build a safer, more efficient enterprise.