From Luxury to Necessity: 4 Use Cases for RTLS in Healthcare

EAM Use Cases in Healthcare

June 3, 2022

Leila Kojouri

Real-time location systems (RTLS) empower healthcare facilities to leverage IoT for asset tracking to help improve operations, optimize workflows, reduce costs, and ensure equipment availability – freeing up time for clinicians to focus on patient care.

Technological advancements in healthcare represent nothing short of miracles. Yet, when it comes to effective asset management, healthcare facilities face an uphill battle in the struggle to reduce asset downtime while maximizing efficiency – made indelibly worse with the impact of COVID-19.  

Many facilities rely on antiquated, inefficient processes associated with manual identification, inspection, and inventory logging via paper records or spreadsheets. While some hospitals have employed basic barcodes, RFID serves as a static reference point, incapable of locating and identifying dynamic, mobile assets in real-time.   

But, with a powerful Real-Time Location System (RTLS), healthcare facilities can leverage IoT for asset tracking to help improve operations, drive intelligent workflows, reduce costs, and ensure equipment availability, as seen in the following use cases:  

Quickly locate mobile assets for routine and emergency usage  

The quality of patient care is directly tied to one crucial element: Time. Ask any clinician, and they’ll likely attest to the copious amount of time spent trying to find resources that should be readily available for treating patients in both routine and emergency circumstances. Assets are often difficult to track – sometimes hoarded or accidentally lost in other units, like linen or waste disposal areas.  

For example, costly medical devices, like pulse oximeters, are small and easily misplaced, especially when patients are discharged and a quick turn-over of the room is expected. This results in staff quickly changing bedding, rolling up linens, and throwing them down chutes or into carts for transport to soiled laundry rooms where equipment is disposed of or inadvertently lost.  

Even large assets, like wheelchairs, account for massive shrinkage – with an estimated 25 percent of wheelchairs in U.S. hospitals reported as lost or stolen each year. Without a clear ability to easily find assets, patient care is delayed or interrupted while staff search for equipment needed to do their jobs.   

Quick-to-market, scalable RTLS solutions enable asset tracking capabilities through a single point of management where high-cost, portable assets for routine patient servicing can be located efficiently and quickly based on their current, real-time location. Examples include, but aren’t limited to: Infusion pumps, workstations on wheels (WOW), PCA pumps, bed pumps, telemetry boxes, AED machines, digital thermometers, SCDs, ultrasounds, blanket warmers, and patient slings.  

Asset tracking can also help streamline emergency care operations, enabling the rapid availability of life-saving assets like crash carts, ventilators, and ortho instrument kits. With a transparent, data-backed view of product inventory, hospital staff know how and when equipment is utilized, which plays into when equipment needs to be serviced, and data concerning what supplies need ordering and/or replaced.  

Reduce overspending and assist in preventative maintenance of equipment 

Above all others, the healthcare industry must ensure that all healthcare equipment remain in top condition so that medical professionals can concentrate on what’s important: Saving lives. Physicians, nurses, and other staff rely on everything from diagnostic imaging machinery to patient monitoring devices, which must be in good, working order.  

RTLS empowers healthcare organizations with the ability to streamline, consolidate and visualize all assets and equipment throughout facility networks in real-time. Doing so fosters intelligent workflows and contributes to preventative maintenance capabilities – enhancing the availability of assets to ensure patients receive the treatment they need when they need it.  

With asset tracking in place, hospitals expedite their ability to locate equipment requiring servicing, maintenance, or calibration. The ability to quickly locate assets requiring maintenance saves time and money, especially when specialty teams, like technicians, are needed for on-site intervention. Upon arrival at the hospital, countless hours that could and should be used for servicing equipment are wasted locating the assets. With insufficient time needed to conduct maintenance, service appointments are often rescheduled so that technicians can do their jobs, resulting in underserved, unusable equipment – which can delay patient care.  

In addition, overspending is a burden for many hospitals, especially since healthcare facilities spend a large portion of their budget on equipment rentals. Outsourced arrangements with clinical engineering services help hospitals with the right-sizing of their inventory, where third-party vendors provide mobile assets like beds, pumps, and wheelchairs, for example, as a rental service which often leads to overcharging. With RTLS, hospitals gain visibility into their equipment volumes, and actionable insights needed to remedy supply issues internally, resulting in massive cost savings. 

Tracking assets throughout sterile processing workflows  

Since cleaning and disinfection procedures are critical for every unit, asset, staff member, and patient, effective sterilization is the backbone for safe, efficient functionality at every level of a hospital’s infrastructure. However, sterile processing units face unique hurdles in a landscape rife with ever-changing compliance regulations and added frustrations due to device manufacturers’ inconsistent and often burdensome cleaning instructions.  

In an era where immense regulatory oversight presides, RTLS solutions serve to automate sterile processing workflows by providing key location data associated with medical equipment, surgical instruments, and supplies during the cleaning, sterilization, and redistribution process – regardless of the hospital’s size or complexity. In addition to benefits like reduced risks of infection or cross-contamination, hospitals gain improved compliance, better cost-efficiency, and streamlined inventory management throughout the sterilization lifecycle.  

It’s no secret that rigorous sterilization processes for surgical equipment involve high-temperature, high-pressure liquid sterilization, ultrasonic cleaning, and steam autoclave. An effective RTLS solution optimizes sterilization workflows, leading to improved efficiency throughout the sterile processing lifecycle. RTLS tags designed to withstand extreme pressure throughout sterile processing enable tracking of critical operating room equipment, such as surgical instrument trays, as they move through different stages of preparation for surgical procedures.  

Maintaining and monitoring periodic asset replenishment (PAR) levels 

In healthcare, manual, dated processes no longer satisfy modern demands for real-time locating, identifying, and monitoring inventory levels. In the absence of modern innovations like RTLS, managing and accounting for these assets is an ongoing challenge, where replenishing equipment is often a reactive, inefficient, and cumbersome process. 

By tagging healthcare assets and tracking their movement throughout departments, floors, or units, RTLS helps amass data needed to understand equipment requirements and asset demands. More specifically, RTLS can help monitor PAR levels or the minimum quantity of a given asset to ensure clinicians can access equipment or supplies needed to deliver patient care.  

With transparent visualization into asset levels, staff gain immediate insight concerning which units are running low on key assets and which are overstocked. And, when specialty equipment drops below PAR level, which can trigger a critical state requiring immediate attention, RTLS can send notifications to personnel, alerting them that the supply needs replenishing. As a result of effective PAR level management, hospitals enhance their ability to use equipment to its fullest capacity, saving on unnecessary equipment expenditures, while enhancing operations. 

MachineQ for Asset Management 

With MachineQ for Asset Management, healthcare organizations can modernize their ecosystem to automate processes with data-based insights into movable assets empowering clinicians to enhance operations and improve the quality of patient care. 

An effective RTLS solution with rapid-fire deployment can provide real-time, accurate asset visibility to boost staff productivity, optimize equipment usage, and promote data transparency for actionable insights that transform daily workflows and reduce capital expenditures. It significantly contributes to cost savings while increasing revenue and enhancing the quality – and timing – of patient care.