Real-time location system (RTLS) solutions provide asset-tracking capabilities in multiple industries, from transportation, to manufacturing, to agriculture. But perhaps the most advanced RTLS use cases lie in healthcare. RTLS has created immense opportunity for hospitals and healthcare organizations of all sizes to track assets and personnel, manage legal compliance, and handle inventory management with ease.
But even with these critical benefits, nearly 93% of hospitals don’t use and don’t plan to implement RTLS. Thus, there’s a great deal of value and many critical use cases left to be uncovered. If you’re considering a healthcare RTLS solution, be sure to ask yourself the following five questions.
5 Things To Consider When Choosing Healthcare RTLS
1. Is the solution within your budget?
- Tag costs: The tag is the physical device that records and transfers movement of an asset. A $50 tag may not seem unreasonable—but if you need to track 10,000 assets, you may run into some budgetary constraints. Additionally, some solutions force you to use a proprietary tag technology instead of allowing you the choice through open source technology. This definitely raises the cost.
- Battery life: Be sure to consider how much power each tag will draw as well as whether your system (or your customer’s system) can handle the replacement cycles, as this affects how often tags will need to be replaced. Understanding the total cost of service is important when comparing options.
- Labor costs: If someone has to create an elaborate map or gather survey data in order to integrate your healthcare RTLS technology, you’re going accrue more labor costs.
- Integration costs: If you’re integrating an infrared RTLS solution, this will require a great deal of work. You will have to install a tag reader in the ceiling of every room in the network and hardwire those readers back to a central access point. Running cables and power through the ceiling of every room can be very disruptive and difficult to do.
2. How complex will the IT integration be?
Working with the IT department to implement a new solution can be a frustrating experience, as it can involve filling out a lengthy security questionnaire and waiting 3-6 months for approval. Hospital IT departments are regularly threatened by hackers and are rightly cautious of introducing possible vulnerabilities to their systems. Some healthcare RTLS solutions require no IT integration whatsoever—so be sure to keep this in mind when crafting or purchasing a solution.
3. How much of the facility will you need to outfit?
If you’re only focused on tracking 10 items in five rooms, integrating an extensive infrared RTLS solution may be wasteful. Carefully consider what you want to track and how much of your hospital or healthcare system will be affected before choosing your solution.
4. Do you need to know an exact location or just proximity?
Does it matter whether you can triangulate the exact position of a tracked item, or do you just need to know a general location of the item, at the room level, within your hospital? Proximity-based systems are simpler, less power-hungry, and usually cost much less. For example, a materials management team sees immediate benefit from reducing the search zone for a machine or tool from the entire hospital to a couple rooms. Keep this in mind when you’re looking at solutions.
5. What do you want to track?
If you only need to track expensive capital assets, like an infusion pump or an X-ray machine, spending $80 on an RTLS tag isn’t problematic. But if you need to make sure you know where Dr. Bob’s special surgery stool is (so his interns aren’t running around looking for it before the surgery can begin)—or if the item will only be in the hospital for a short time (or will perish within a short time frame)—a $2 tag fits the use case more appropriately. If you need to track expensive capital assets and less expensive items, the economics and technical capabilities of the system you choose should work for both.
Deciding Between RTLS Technology Options
At this point, you may realize that healthcare RTLS is exactly what your organization needs to track personnel and assets, handle legal compliance and inventory management, or manage financial queries. There are six primary types of RTLS technology you could use:
- Infrared RTLS, which uses an infrared tag that flashes a unique ID to ceiling-mounted readers.
- WiFi RTLS, which transmits a WiFi signal to multiple access points throughout the hospital.
- Ultra-wide-band RTLS, which transmits a wide signal across gigahertz of spectrum.
- Passive RFID, which uses battery-free tags and high-power readers (like you’ve seen in libraries and retail stores).
- Proprietary wireless RTLS, which uses “homegrown” technologies on the tag, reader, and network side.
- Active Bluetooth-based RTLS, which uses battery-powered sensors that connect to various access points throughout the hospital and transfer data to the cloud.
But not all of these technologies are created equal—they vary significantly in benefits, considerations, and price. For a complete run-down on these variables and more, download this free white paper.