By Mohsen Hekmatyar
A facilities manager’s world revolves around one word: efficiency. Maintaining efficiency in a healthcare environment is a significant undertaking as it is, but during the COVID-19 pandemic many facilities managers have been tasked with finding and managing solutions that normally fall to other departments.
With added responsibilities, identifying technology solutions that provide enhanced visibility into every aspect of a facility can make everyday tasks more manageable, while also improving site-wide efficiency. Real-time location systems (RTLS) can integrate a variety of technologies into one end-to-end solution that can be deployed in new or existing facilities, and help facilities managers meet and exceed the growing expectations of the role.
RTLS supports myriad capabilities, such as asset tracking, operational workflow, environmental monitoring, and security and protection. To support these use cases, RTLS can leverage a variety of technologies including, RFID (active and passive), Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Wi-Fi, and Infrared. The best-suited technology depends on the facility architecture, the use case, and existing applications.
Locating systems play a significant role in an RTLS deployment within any facility. When looking at the technology that supports locating systems, there are two main types to consider: wall penetrating and wall constrained.
Wall penetrating – or radio frequency-only based (RF-only) – technologies provide a signal that penetrates through walls. This is helpful for facilities with a larger, open architecture design and when a facilities manager needs to know the approximate location of assets or personnel. RF-only technologies like Wi-Fi and BLE have the ability to maintain connectivity between rooms, floors and buildings since their signals reach through physical barriers. This, combined with their low cost and easy integration with other IoT devices, makes them an attractive option for facilities managers looking to implement RTLS while balancing cost.
On the other end of the spectrum, is wall constrained, which leverages certainty-based technologies like second generation infrared to constrain signals in order to define an area. While wall constrained technology does not provide the same level of reach as wall penetrating, it makes up for it with providing clinical-grade locating (precise location and accuracy). This can be crucial for facilities managers that are tasked with monitoring critical assets or people when an exact location is required. A hybrid approach to technology implementation can also be considered to meet various needs throughout the enterprise.
RTLS Use Cases
Healthcare facilities commonly use RTLS for asset tracking. While tracking and managing medical equipment typically falls under the responsibility of biomedical teams, staffing issues and other implications brought on by COVID-19 have led many healthcare settings to ask facilities managers to step in to help. As a result, they are expected to track certain critical assets and relocate them to address the needs of different departments.
For example, during COVID-19 the demand for hospital beds peaked, causing many hospitals to rent beds to fill the need. If there are excess beds in one area of the hospital, the facilities manager needs to know which department they belong to, if they have been sterilized, and where else the beds may be needed. Attaching RTLS-enabled asset tags to hospital beds allows the manager to view this information and conduct an analysis to reallocate the beds where needed most.
RTLS has also become invaluable in healthcare settings for temperature monitoring and contact tracing, both of which have gained international attention during the pandemic. RTLS systems record and track conditions remotely, ensuring assets – like vaccines and diagnostic samples – are stored and distributed within necessary parameters, and that facility conditions – like differential air pressure and humidity – are maintained properly. When used for contact tracing, RTLS allows facilities to note the movement and location of any infected person who they came in contact with, and any equipment they may have used, even beyond the clinical areas. This information can be leveraged to quickly identify those at risk and create a mitigation plan.
While RTLS has proven essential in healthcare during the pandemic, it is by no means limited to healthcare settings. RTLS can be used in any facility in which assets, people, and infrastructure need to be monitored and tracked in real time. Consider the corrections industry where locating systems can be used to prompt guards to search areas that prisoners frequently use to escape – like air ducts and boiler rooms – which are often outside the purview of facilities managers. Or in senior living communities where RTLS can be implemented to manage wander risks, reduce spread of communicable disease, and respond to emergencies.
No matter the use case, facilities managers will gain the added benefit of automated data collection which provides increased visibility across the enterprise.
Data and Analytics
One significant benefit of implementing an RTLS is automated data collection and reporting. Compared to manual collection, automated processes are less susceptible to human error. Real-time analytics provided by RTLS can help better inform facilities managers on any potential issues, so they can be quickly addressed to reduce costs and improve safety. For instance, when monitoring an asset like a refrigerator that contains sensitive material like vaccines or food products, the RTLS will send an alert if the temperature deviates from the set range, allowing for immediate action to be taken.
The data generated from the system can also be used to identify trends, optimize workflow, and stay up to date with compliance and regulatory reporting. Armed with this type of information, it is possible to make faster, more informed decisions that improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Choosing a Provider
There are a handful of things to consider when choosing an RTLS provider. It can be helpful to understand what deployments the provider has done in the past and what results other facilities experienced. This provides a better idea of the provider’s credibility, effectiveness, and range of expertise.
It is also important to consider if a solution provider meets both current business needs and potential future needs. The ideal provider should offer flexible solutions that will support multiple RTLS use cases and integrate into future and existing platforms. This reduces complications later that could limit the ability to add more location applications as needs evolve. The model provider can not only deliver the needed technology but also the services to stay engaged and ensure the realization of the desired results.
Understanding the level of accuracy required for the facility or use case is another essential consideration. This will help determine which type of technology is required for each application and help to balance cost with needs.
With any new technology implementation there is a learning curve, but installation does not have to be complicated. A good RTLS partner will offer design help, technical documentation, a simple installation process, and post-installation support. An end-to-end solution provider that provides a consultative approach as well as both hardware and software product offerings can deliver a more seamlessness implementation process.
RTLS providers offer flexible solutions that can address the many challenges associated with managing a facility-wide operation. As the role of facilities managers continues to expand, RTLS can make the transition more manageable while improving efficiency.
Mohsen Hekmatyar is the vice president of partnerships 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 organizations around the world build a safer, more efficient enterprise. For more information, visit www.centrak.com.