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When Seconds Count: Tracking Devices From the Facility to Mobile Field Hospitals

When Seconds Count: Tracking Devices From the Facility to Mobile Field Hospitals

Clare French
October 6, 2020

If we have learned one important lesson from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s this. To successfully deal with a rapidly burgeoning healthcare crisis, it is essential to have the right medical equipment, in the right place, at the right time.

Which is why hospital facilities across the country are adopting healthcare real-time location systems (RTLS) for both their normal brick-and-mortar facilities as well as surge-based mobile field hospitals.

By combining such technologies as active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and Bluetooth beacons to keep track of high-value medical equipment, hospitals of all sizes are beginning to see a big return on investment with respect to improved patient care, optimized equipment usage and increased productivity.

Indeed, these equipment tracking solutions make it much easier to quickly identify and round up necessary equipment for tests, procedures, and exams; thereby reducing critical wait-time, particularly when it comes to life-saving emergency medical interventions.

In fact, one survey from Nursing Times showed that nurses spend anywhere from 20 minutes to one hour per shift searching for equipment they need; time that should be devoted to doing what they do best - caring for patients.

On top of that, there’s the exorbitant cost of replacing critical resources that go missing for good - an estimated $4,000 per bed according to another recent study by the American national care network VHA.

That translates to a minimum of two million dollars per year in a hospital with 500+ beds, at a time when operational costs are rapidly escalating.

Of course, these tracking systems have been deployed to locate medical assets inside of brick-and-mortar buildings - which is why they use technologies designed solely for an indoor positioning system.

So, what happens when this equipment must be moved outside of these structures and into one of the temporary hospitals that have popped up in cities struggling to triage and treat escalating COVID-19 infection rates (or handle any such healthcare surge) in the face of limited bed capacity?

How do you effectively and continuously monitor and manage a medical device’s journey as it shifts between indoor and outdoor locations - without investing in separate systems for each? Until recently, that would have been your only option. But we’ll get into that discussion later on in this post.

Wildfires, Weather and Widespread Disease: Pop-Up Hospitals Are Here to Stay

The concept of “pop-up” hospitals is hardly a novel one. Temporary, mobile medical units have long been used on battlefields around the world to provide emergency care for wounded soldiers until they could be transported to permanent facilities.

(Indeed, the Boomers among us will certainly remember the popular TV series M*A*S*H about a fictional Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.)

Over the years, these field hospital layouts have been deployed beyond the battlefield, to furnish medical support in disaster zones and during major epidemics - from isolation and intensive care, to surgery and recovery.

As such, they offer comprehensive, onsite services and sterile environments for even the most complicated and/or sensitive procedures.

For example, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita slammed into the Gulf Coast, wounding thousands in their wake, healthcare providers rushed to assemble emergency treatment facilities in convention centers, arenas and giant tents until local hospitals could reopen.

The world has since watched in awe as health systems promptly stood up mobile field units for testing, quarantining and treating massive numbers of COVID-19 patients both here at home and abroad.

And given ominous predictions for ongoing wildfires, disastrous weather events, and future pandemics, the pop-up hospital will most likely become a somewhat permanent fixture in our world.

What’s more, mobile field hospital designs will serve as rapid response extensions of existing hospitals and/or emergency clinics, fully equipped to offer many of the same services.

Not surprisingly, establishing and operating a so-called mobile field hospital under emergency conditions is a challenging proposition at best, given that there is often little time to plan and no time to waste.

Keep in mind that field facilities typically incorporate all of the same expensive medical equipment found in brick-and-mortar hospitals - from infusion pumps, ventilators, portable scanners, and heart monitors, to gurneys, crash carts, and beds.

What’s more, when it’s time to pack up and close a temporary hospital, this equipment will move, as well, from the field back into a facility of some sort, either for storage or reuse in another location. So, from an asset management perspective, that means implementing an adaptable healthcare RTLS solution.

One that provides seamless visibility, both indoors and out without having to rely on separate systems for each location - which is why our groundbreaking AirFinder SuperTag is the most optimal solution.

A Pop-Up RTLS Solution for Pop-Up Hospitals

In looking ahead to the future, Link Labs recently released its SuperTag solution - an innovative device that merges the best of both indoor positioning and outdoor, IoT-based real-time monitoring into one long-lasting package.

Put simply, it integrates five technologies that work synergistically to ensure continuous, end-to-end visibility - Cell ID, GNSS/GPS, WiFi lookup, the AirFinder Indoor Positioning Network, and Polte.

So, as essential medical equipment moves from point to point between temporary and fixed locations, the SuperTag keeps right on working with seamless precision. That said, this innovative solution is a perfect option for mobile field hospitals, wherever and whenever they must be deployed.

Here are just a few of this solution’s critical advantages, or as we like to call them, its SuperPowers.

Energy Efficiency

Given that disasters of any kind require rapid medical response and continuous asset management, there is precious little time to worry whether your asset tracking tags are and/or will remain operable as you move into high gear.

So, power efficiency is definitely an issue to consider when choosing a reliable system. And the AirFinder SuperTag checks that design box, in that it sips, rather than gulps power.

In fact, as an intelligent IoT device, it can be configured to increase or decrease power consumption, as needed, to conserve battery life - which means that the tag can last for years before replacing its battery.

Equally notable, we have developed a sophisticated battery “fuel gauge,” if you will, that calculates battery life by the number of location transmissions or “pings” remaining, rather than by voltage, as is commonly used in other battery-powered tags.

Flexibility

Field hospital designs also depend on flexibility, which empowers crisis responders to quickly stand up appropriate space for beds and equipment, isolation and surgical units, staff and patients, as needs evolve.

Likewise, these facilities must have the capacity to operate efficiently and effectively across a broad spectrum of weather conditions, environmental threats, and structural constraints; in rural areas and congested cities.

With that in mind, staff must have the capacity to identify, position and monitor personnel, patients and equipment - from anywhere, as the need arises.

In meeting that challenge, our engineers have come up with just the right combination of leading-edge positioning and data transmission, or backhaul, technologies for remotely transmitting signals at very high speeds, from any location, in real-time.

In essence, the SuperTag can leap tall buildings and navigate massive spaces, while transitioning between indoor and outdoor areas. On top of that, this system monitors asset condition, with the help of add-on capabilities to sense humidity, operability, shock, pressure, and more - a big boon during natural disasters like wildfires, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

In addition, to keep devices where they are needed most - a difficult task in a large convention center or the middle of a big field - medical staff can create geofences that set off alerts when equipment moves in or out of its designated “trusted place.”

And to make tracking even flexible, each SuperTag can be configured to broadcast activity data and heartbeats more often or prioritize a preferred location technology, such as WiFi over GPS.

Affordability

Let’s face it. Medical equipment is pricey, especially in light of conflicting budget priorities. That’s why having an medical asset management strategy in place that protects these precious devices from loss, theft and damage is increasingly important, especially in times of crisis when equipment is moving in and out of field hospitals and/or drive-through testing facilities.

But as we mentioned earlier, until recently, that meant carrying the expense of two systems - one for indoor and one for outdoor positioning.

So we made it our mission at Link Labs to develop a single, highly affordable RTLS solution that does both - which resulted in our AirFinder SuperTag solution, with its power-efficient, user-controlled, and seamlessly intelligent design, along with its affordable monthly pricing schedule.

Meeting Unique Needs

While the healthcare system continues evolving to meet the changing needs of a changing world, we will no doubt see major advances in patient care, thanks to ever more sophisticated medical equipment and treatment procedures.

Consequently, we are delighted to be part of the solution in these challenging times, by supplying power-efficient and flexible systems to track medical equipment, at a highly affordable price.

And we believe that our AirFinder SuperTag offers the biggest bang for the mobile field hospital buck when it comes to an all-inclusive design that seamlessly monitors high-value assets as they move in and out of any location, at any time, and in any setting.

That said, we are here to answer your questions about this device and invite you to contact us for more information.

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