Real-time location tracking (RTLS) empowers healthcare systems –– among other industries –– to operate more safely, efficiently, and effectively. When it comes time to research RTLS, there are a lot of questions that can pop up, and knowing where to start can be confusing.
This article from Altus, Inc. explores the most common questions we receive regarding RTLS. Read on for the FAQs about this emerging technology.
1. What Does RTLS Stand for?
RTLS stands for Real-Time Location System or Service. RTLS answers the what, where, and when of tagged assets, including medical computer carts. Implementing RTLS technology lets you know where all assets are at all times. It provides immediate, room-level accuracy for tagged people, devices, and equipment.
2. What is RTLS?
RTLS is a tracking system that delivers real-time information regarding a tagged asset’s whereabouts. The asset-tracking technology is ideal for use in fast-paced environments like hospitals and healthcare facilities where timely and accurate location services are essential.
3. How Does RTLS Work?
RTLS asset tracking includes a variety of tags and badges. Their sizes vary depending on what is being tracked, so it’s not taking up too much space. Hospitals can attach the tags to anything they need to track, including patients, equipment, devices, staff, and other assets.
Embedded in each tag is a chip that signals the exact location of that tag, down to the exact room and floor. These tags use Bluetooth Low Energy, and their specific software to continuously track each tag’s location. IT teams can check the system to see each tag’s location, run a report, or record the data.
4. How Do RTLS Systems Help Hospitals?
RTLS is the ideal asset-tracking technology within healthcare applications. It offers them several benefits that streamline workflows, save money, and empower hospital staff to redirect their energy back to their patients. Below are a few reasons why:
With clinical-grade accuracy, RTLS tracking can pinpoint the exact location of a tagged asset or individual. High-level accuracy translates to less time spent looking for missing or misplaced assets, which saves time and money.
The instantaneous nature of RTLS systems means you have immediate knowledge of an asset’s or individual’s location. This is especially helpful during time-sensitive asset searches, contact tracing, or patient or staff searches.
Hospital systems often attach RTLS tags on or to provider and staff identification badges. This allows administration and IT teams to keep track of staff during emergency events. If a facility enters a lockdown, all parties can be located instantly. With 44% of nurses reported to have experienced physical assault, RTLS offers a way for staff to call for help immediately. They can hit the panic button via their tag, and additional help can come to stop the situation.
RTLS helps promote staff safety during emergencies, providing essential data, communication methods, and response times to keep everyone safe.
RTLS does more than provide location services. The technology records valuable equipment data, including maintenance reports, needs, and schedules.
RTLS empowers IT teams to manage maintenance more effectively and efficiently for their hospital’s medical equipment. The tagging system allows staff to provide proactive maintenance instead of relying on reactive maintenance strategies, elongating equipment lifespans and reducing the need for emergency repairs. This proactive approach saves time, money, and the stress associated with a suddenly unusable piece of equipment.
5. Are There Liabilities with RTLS?
As with any system implemented within a healthcare system, RTLS can pose potential liabilities. RTLS is often used to support hospital security. As such, the administration must ensure the following to prevent oversight and liability issues:
The staff members who will be using the software should receive thorough, formal training in the RTLS system. Knowing the ins and outs of the software, team members are less likely to miss important alerts or abnormalities that could signal a security issue.
An RTLS system is only effective if it’s working correctly. Conduct regular testing to ensure your RTLS system is working as it should.
6. How Can RTLS Systems Save Hospitals Money?
Effectively implementing RTLS technologies can optimize hospital budgets. Below are a few examples of how:
Locate Missing or Misplaced Equipment
Hospitals lose 10 to 20 percent of their mobile assets annually to misplacement or theft. That translates to millions of dollars needlessly lost. RTLS systems allow IT teams to know the whereabouts of every tagged piece of equipment, preventing resource loss resulting from missing or misplaced assets.
Prevent Equipment Theft
Intentional and accidental device theft is another major contributor to hospitals’ resource losses. It can cost healthcare systems millions of dollars each year. RTLS trackers provide room-level accuracy, alerting staff if a piece of equipment is in a suspicious location or making its way toward an exit.
Streamline Workflows and Operational Tasks
Hospital staff spends hours completing tasks that RTLS technology renders obsolete. For example, asset tracking eliminates the need for nurses to waste time searching for the equipment needed to provide care. RTLS tags automate inventory management, eliminating the need for manual data entry and reducing human error associated with it.
RTLS automates many of a hospital’s operational tasks, saving time and money for the facility.
7. What’s the Difference between RTLS and RFID?
RTLS and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) are terms often used interchangeably, but there are nuanced differences between the two asset-tracking technologies. RTLS tracking is typically more accurate and provides immediate location data. RFID tracking uses radio frequency to transmit data from the tag to the reader. Between RFID and RTLS, RTLS tracking typically boasts a more extended read range than its RFID counterpart.
8. How Does RTLS Improve the Patient Experience?
As we’ve covered above, RTLS asset tracking ensures that hospitals and their staff have access to the valuable equipment required to provide patient care. The systems aid in resource preservation, which can be poured back into the hospital to deliver exceptional patient experiences.
But RTLS tags also directly impact each patient that receives care in a hospital implementing the technology. When a patient is assigned a badge or tag during admission, RTLS systems monitor the patient’s location and can include essential patient data.
The tags house intake and discharge information, streamlining those processes and promoting a more efficient, pleasant patient experience.
9. What are the Benefits of RTLS?
RTLS offers a variety of benefits to hospitals. In addition to having the location of any tagged item instantly, RTLS location tracking offers a full list of benefits. Some of the benefits of implementing RTLS software include:
- Infant security
- Monitoring patients who are flight risks
- Locating and monitoring equipment
- Streamlining patient intake and discharge workflows
- Managing inventories
- Prioritizing staff safety and locating staff quickly during emergencies
- Guarding against asset theft or loss
These benefits are just the start and incentivize hospitals and healthcare systems to implement RTLS technologies.