Strategies to Enhance the Patient Experience and Staff Satisfaction in 2022 Using Real-Time Location Systems

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By Caryn Hewitt, RN, BSN, CENP, CPHQ, Senior Director, Consulting Services, CenTrak

Over the past two years, the healthcare landscape and patient experience have drastically shifted due to the ongoing pandemic. What was once unthinkable has become an everyday norm in healthcare facilities: paused elective surgeries, varying visitor restrictions, and widely utilized telehealth offerings. As those unprecedented shifts occurred, 2021 became the year of a unique digital transformation.

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As facilities accelerated their digital transformation, it was often crucial to prioritize only the essential operations. In 2022 though, healthcare leaders must consider the additional offerings and investments necessary to benefit the patient experience, increase staff satisfaction, and address the previously less immediate challenges that may have fallen to the side. 

Real-time location systems (RTLS) can provide cost-effective solutions that enhance patient safety and ease operations for staff. The technology behind RTLS provides active-radio frequency identification (RFID) location-enabled badges and tags to securely give teams insights on where exactly they can find the right equipment, colleague, or patient, increasing workflow efficiencies at a time when healthcare professionals need all hands on deck. Here are key areas to focus on in the year ahead, illustrating how RTLS can improve the patient and staff experience while delivering a strong return on investment.

Protecting Staff and Patients Through Higher Compliance

On any given day, 1-in-31 hospital patients are affected by the spread of an infection within healthcare facilities. As is widely known, and reported by the Center for Disease Control, hand hygiene compliance helps reduce the spread of these infections. To improve the quality of patient care, protect against the spread of COVID-19, and lower hospital costs, healthcare organizations must prioritize automated hand hygiene compliance and reduce healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) in 2022.  

Rather than rely on manual efforts, which can unnecessarily consume hours of staff’s precious time, as well as falsely inflate compliance rates when a caregiver knows they are under observation, an RTLS solution helps hospitals accurately monitor handwashing in patient care areas using RTLS-enabled badges. The IoT badges digitally connect with sensors at handwashing stations to securely and automatically share the appropriate analytics with administrators to review where the facility can improve. Following the implementation of CenTrak’s RTLS-based hand hygiene compliance solution, a medical center in Denver increased compliance rates by 75%. Meanwhile, a healthcare facility in Georgia integrated the solution and improved hand hygiene compliance by 130%, now consistently reaching compliance numbers that are among the best in the nation. Capturing 100% of handwashing events, hospitals using automated solutions are able to accurately audit hand hygiene protocols and make a difference in patient and staff safety.  

If hand hygiene compliance is not correctly monitored, the unfortunate price of HAIs can negatively impact human life and the bottom line; hospitals with outbreaks routinely lose the trust of their patients and their reputation can take a significant hit. In this climate, where patients still remain wary of hospital visits, facilities cannot afford to develop a poor reputation in their communities.

Patients Are Digital-First and Mobile-Centric

Another aspect of hospital visits that can make patients wary is the navigational process. It can be common for patients to become lost during a first visit to a new healthcare facility, with some hospital systems reporting that nearly 30% of patients lose their way. To make matters worse, staff even report challenges navigating their own facility’s campus, especially in wings they infrequently visit. These location challenges can lead to additional stress on patients and visitors, late arrivals, missed appointments, delayed care, and an estimated loss of $200 per no-show for hospitals.

A recent study discovered that patients who miss an appointment are 70% less likely to return within the next 18 months. However, reports have shown that implementing a digital wayfinding solution for campus-wide navigation can reduce patient anxiety. When patients can successfully navigate for themselves, they feel more confident and calm going into their appointment. This freedom allows the patient to focus on their care and recovery.

An advanced digital wayfinding solution can even create a route and parking details for a patient ahead of time and send a link with directions via text message. Top digital wayfinding solutions can also utilize QR codes inside and outside the hospital facilities. This no-hardware approach is cost-effective, easy for patients and visitors to use, and allows healthcare professionals to remain on task instead of providing directions. Digital wayfinding is a win-win option to consider this year.

Actionable Insights to Improve Workflow Amid Shortages

As 2022 begins, healthcare staff and the crucial resources necessary to provide patient care are often in short supply. The combined shortage situation is anticipated to persist well into 2022. In response to these challenges, healthcare staff and leadership utilizing integrated RTLS gain the benefits of automated workflow and data collection. 

Through RTLS workflow solutions such as automated nurse call systems, healthcare staff gain a more hands-free approach to patient care and can increase response times to patient needs by 40%. When a staff member enters a patient’s room, the system accurately detects the RTLS-enabled badge and automatically cancels the patient’s call bell, logs the response time, and illuminates the corresponding light. This process allows caregivers to immediately focus on patient needs and reduce bottlenecks. By incorporating another RTLS solution like asset tracking, workflow becomes even more streamlined as caregivers have a fast and accurate asset search tool at their fingertips. Precious time is no longer wasted searching for available equipment. Following RTLS asset tracking deployments, hospitals have measured thousands of hours reallocated to patient care and more than a 50% increase in staff satisfaction. Additionally, healthcare facilities can enhance their asset tracking solution to automate biomed workflows such as PAR-level management, preventative maintenance management functions, and equipment distribution. 

To further increase efficiency, data securely collected from RTLS provides meaningful analytics to inform leadership on overall operations, accurately determining a facility’s staffing and equipment needs, documenting and reporting compliance metrics, detecting real-time risks, and identifying inefficiencies throughout the facility to make more informed decisions on how to improve workflow. While manual data collection and reporting have traditionally accomplished many of these tasks, they’re time-consuming, prone to human error, and often only provide a glimpse into the insights available.

As the healthcare industry remains resource-constrained, actionable analytics are a critical asset when facilities seek to ensure patients receive greater face time with their caregivers, decrease stress placed on healthcare professionals, and lower financial strains. Each of these three aspects are crucial in the coming year.

Finding the Right Solution to Best Assist 

For many healthcare facilities, system automation begins with just one of the capabilities offered by RTLS. This method provides an easy entry point to the technology and allows healthcare leadership to evaluate how the system benefits their teams and analyze the initial return on investment.

Selecting an RTLS partner with a comprehensive suite of solutions makes it easier to expand into other hospital operations and departments in the future. The most advanced RTLS deploy clinical-grade visibility and provide healthcare teams capabilities such as nurse call automation, asset management, environmental temperature monitoring, and automated hand hygiene monitoring using easy-to-implement technology.

The ongoing pandemic has continued to demonstrate the importance of healthcare professionals and the enhanced pressures they face. As the pandemic continues, healthcare leaders must consider the benefits of providing healthcare staff invaluable peace of mind and greater support. By investing in further digital transformations, like RTLS, healthcare leadership can show understanding of the stress their staff faces daily, enhance patient care, and benefit the overall hospital at a critical time.

Caryn Hewitt, RN, BSN, CENP, CPHQ, Senior Director of Consulting Services at CenTrak, has been involved in hospital operations for 37 years as a Nursing Executive. She served in various roles, including 4 years as the Chief Information Officer. Caryn brings extensive experience in several healthcare technology projects including all facets of planning and opening a new 400 bed hospital which was inclusive of many real-time location systems use cases. Caryn leads the team of Consultants at CenTrak which includes several highly experienced professionals with a wide variety of healthcare expertise.

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