Technology Offers Healthcare Innovation in the Face of COVID

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By Chuck Sabin

COVID-19 has placed global healthcare systems under a tremendous amount of pressure. Hospitals are dealing with an influx of patients far beyond capacity, putting significant strain on both staff and resources.  With overwhelmed systems, a renewed spotlight has highlighted the need for digital transformation. One significant implementation of technology in hospitals is Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS).  RTLS can improve patient care by increasing the time clinical staff can spend with patients, improving space navigation and utilization, and increasing resources and security of facilities, which helps healthcare facilities optimize their operations and improve the care they provide patients. The data can also be used to track and report key metrics, such as door-to-doctor time in the emergency room, patient throughput, and wait times. Hospitals can keep track of this data and alleviate any inefficiencies or problems straight away using new RTLS technology.

Less Wasted Time for Providers

One example of this technology being implemented successfully is with Riverside Healthcare. The healthcare facility originally was looking to implement technology which would help prevent patient elopement.   Through their assessment they were able to see the true value of an RTLS solution which gave way to the implementation of an asset tracking system that directly improves patient care and reduces wasted time. As with any medical system, the solution must be fast, user-friendly, and capable of adapting to each unique facility; thankfully, RTLS delivered the needed solution. 

Before the implementation of RTLS, nurses often wasted valuable time tracking down equipment that is vital to patient care. To put the system to the test, Riverside tracked how many hours staff wasted searching for equipment without RTLS. Over one week, staff used 40 hours searching for equipment, which is enough hours to hire another full-time employee. Not only did RTLS reveal an opportunity to make operations more efficient, but it also provided the solution while adding extra technological advantages that the entire facility can enjoy.

The Benefits of Upgrading Technology in Healthcare 

Many hospitals and medical facilities do not upgrade to the latest hardware and software as often as they should. Most providers focus on the patients and now the behind-the-scenes infrastructure keeping everything together. However, as cyberattacks become more common and technology continues to improve everyday functionality, we are seeing an uptick in more healthcare facilities being proactive in upgrading their outdated systems. 

Location-based services not only keep track of people, assets, and devices but also offer actionable data and insights on the operation. Studies have shown that medical workers do not always sanitize their hands as often as they should, but RTLS offers a data-driven solution. Location services can track how often soap dispensers are used, including when staff approach, use the station, and for how long. Combining data with hygiene ensures that hospital spread infections are kept to a minimum while improving habits that should be standard. Some systems take it a step further and track the level of soap or sanitizer so that staff automatically know when it needs a refill. The University of Fukui Hospital implemented a hand washing system using location tracking and found that staff handwashing increased by 300%, which means fewer patients will contract a hospital infection. 

Data through RTLS also helps hospitals manage shortages. The pandemic stressed the supply of personal protective equipment that providers need to care for patients safely. Some hospitals may have a larger supply than others, but RTLS can tell an understocked hospital if another facility nearby has enough to share. This capability also ties into the RTLS ability to track inventory, so staff can focus on patients rather than counting supplies. The inventory function also ties into the pharmacy as automated alerts can let providers know when medication is about to expire or if medication storage conditions are outside expected ranges. 

Added Benefit of RTLS: Safety for Patients and Providers

RTLS offers more than convenience as it also bolsters security for both staff and patients. Vulnerable patients can be distressed or confused about what is going on, making them a flight risk and potential danger to themselves or others. Tracking tags can be placed on patient doors and will trigger an alert when the door opens to tell the staff a patient might be exploring independently. Using the door tag system means staff can spend less time worrying about a patient’s whereabouts and more time focusing on patient care. RTLS also prepares hospitals for the next crisis that may require social distancing. Tracking tags on employee badges will alert if they are too close to someone else and provide a digital record of movement to simplify contact tracing. Tracking movements will help control the spread of a new disease and ensure that the proper groups isolate after close contact. 

Real-world examples of RTLS show how effective and efficient the upgrades are for medical facilities. The technology can improve patient care by reducing staff busy work and wasted time, automatically tracking resources and inventory, encouraging better hygiene, and improving overall security. The data generated by RTLS can also track and report key metrics, such as patient elopement, patient throughput, and wait times. Hospitals can keep track of this data and alleviate any inefficiencies or problems straight away and without confusion. As we emerge from the pandemic, more hospitals, and industry leaders will adopt the technology to transform healthcare sectors and future-proof them against future infectious diseases and safeguard against detrimental practices.

Chuck Sabin is the Senior Director of Market Development at Bluetooth SIG