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RTLS for Asset Tracking and Staff Location

January 19, 2012
by John DeGaspari
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Hospital simulation center played role in system selection

Real-time location systems (RTLS) have been selected for asset tracking and nurse call location at the Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Hospital. The selection process gives some insight into how one major hospital evaluates new technology.

The evaluations took place in the hospital’s 12,000-foot simulation center, followed by pilot runs in two of the hospital’s clinical facilities. Following those evaluations, the RTLS system will also be implemented in the hospital’s new clinical building, which is expected to open in April of this year.

According to Mike Mc Carty, Johns Hopkins’ chief network officer, the hospital began its evaluation process in 2008. It narrowed down initial proposals in an evaluation on paper, and supplied vendors with specifications for its new clinical building, and what it was trying to accomplish with regard to a nurse call system and asset tracking.

It tested the RTLS systems from three vendors in its simulation center, which contains patient rooms, an OR, and other facilities, and is used both for training and for system evaluations, he says. During the evaluations, the RTLS systems were evaluated for their ability to follow items and personnel, and to provide certain report, such as if a patient was in isolation, the individuals who came within proximity of that patient during a certain period of time, he says. The evaluations included a team of people who work with innovations, methodologies, and workflow improvements, who reviewed the results.

After the evaluations, the hospital chose an RTLS system (supplied by Versus Technology, Inc., Traverse City, Mich.) to run in pilots in live settings. The system uses a combination of infrared and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technologies that combines general and specific location information, Mc Carty says. (He adds that one of the competing technologies the hospital evaluated, based solely on IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi technology, was not sufficiently accurate to pinpoint patient locations. “The only way to remedy that is to add a lot more access points, which we were not willing to do,” he says.)

The selected RTLS system was installed in the hospital’s Weinberg OR, a 10-year-old building. That pilot was focused mostly on tracking of assets, as well as some tracking of personnel, he says.  In a separate pilot, the RTLS system was installed in a nursing unit of the hospital’s Nelson building, where it was used to automate GE’s Telligence nurse call system, and demonstrated automated nurse cancellation and passive nurse registry. Both pilots used the same database and application software, but for different applications, Mc Carty says.

The RTLS system will be implemented in the hospital’s new 1.6-million square-foot facility when it opens in April, Mc Carty says. “We have been involved in the design and specification, the infrastructure for this, for about five or six years,” he says. “We have designed it to support a variety of technologies,” most of which will be ready to go live at move-in, he says.

Asked to elaborate, Mc Carty says that one possibility would be to tie RTLS with patient scheduling, in radiology or pathology, and link that information with the transport person, different kinds of wheelchairs, and patient beds to move patients. “We could alert a transport person to pick up a patient for a radiology appointment a half hour before the patient has to be there. And because we know the patient’s schedule, we can see if the patient is scheduled for a blood transfusion at that point in time,” he says. That scenario is still a few years off, but the infrastructure to support it is in place today, he says.

Mc Carty adds that the technology implementations are aimed to simplify the lives of the nurses and clinicians, as well as improve patient safety. In addition, virtual desktops will be available to the nursing staff and physicians, although standard desktop computers will also be available as a backup, he says.