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Real-time location systems (RTLS) 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 the opportunity for hospitals and healthcare organizations to save both costs and, more importantly, lives.
Personnel tracking: "I need to ask Dr. Smith a question - but it isn't important enough to send him a message. I'll wait until I get a notification that he's on my floor to discuss it with him."
Asset tracking: "We need to know where the portable ultrasound is right away."
Legal compliance: "Can you prove that this piece of equipment was moved?"
Inventory management: "How can I automatically increment and decrements my inventory with minimal staff involvement?"
Financial queries: "I have a request to order 150 new wheelchairs - are we using the wheelchairs we already have, or are they getting stashed somewhere?"
But even with these critical benefits, nearly 93% of hospitals don't use and don't plan to implement RTLS (source). Thus, there's a great deal of value and many critical use cases left to be uncovered.
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.
Power consumption costs: Be sure to consider how much power each tag or access point will draw as well as whether your system (or your customer's system) can handle it, 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 in order to integrate your RTLS technology, you're going to 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.
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 RTLS solutions require no IT integration whatsoever - so be sure to keep this in mind when crafting or purchasing a solution.
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 healthcaresystem will be affected before choosing your solution.
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.
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.
Infrared works the same way as your television remote. An Infrared tag (i.e., a remote) placed on an asset flashes a unique infrared ID at a fixed interval, which is picked up by a ceiling-mounted infrared reader (i.e., a TV).
WiFi RTLS technology uses tags that transmit a WiFi signal to multiple access points throughout the hospital. Using differential-time-of-arrival methods, the receivers are able to locate the tag.
Ultra wide-band RTLS is the gold standard in terms of location precision. It uses small, low-powered tags that transmit an ultra wide-band signal using a spark-gap-style transmitter. This instantaneous burst of energy creates a very wide signal and transmits across gigahertz of spectrum.
Passive RFID is the type of technology you've seen in libraries and retail stores and uses simple, battery-free tags and high-power readers. The readers send out low-frequency radio signals that transmits so much energy over the air that the tag's collector antenna picks up its radio waves with brute force. The tag then transmits back using a different frequency, which the reader receives.
Proprietary wireless RTLS solutions use "homegrown" wireless technologies on the tag, the reader, and the network side. For example, Awarepoint readers create a mesh network to transact data, and the tags send data that multiple readers receive.
Active RTLS uses battery-powered sensors that connect to various access points throughout the hospital and transfer data to the cloud. These solutions use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to reduce system and operational costs and enable asset tracking in emerging healthcare areas that previously hadn't been able to track assets.
AirFinder is a simple, effective RTLS that enables low-cost and secure asset tracking. Aside from the general benefits offered from Bluetooth-based active RTLS, AirFinder offers several critical benefits particular to healthcare:
Depending on what solution you choose, there are security concerns. AirFinder connects to the cloud through a central Symphony Link access point and can be deployed without ever touching the hospital network. But not all Bluetooth-based active RFID technologies have this upside. For example, data from a Bluvision reader goes back to the network via WiFi, which results in hospitals having a sophisticated WiFi host on their network - a clear security concern.
AirFinder uses open-source iBeacon tags that can be purchased from multiple suppliers. This means you aren't stuck with proprietary (and expensive) one-size-fits-all tags. iBeacons - which range from about $2 to $10 - are sold in hundreds of form factors, which makes application customization simple. In a hospital, this means you can track virtually anything without the bulk of a basic, standard-size tag.
The AirFinder dashboard allows you to:
AirFinder is a product division of Link Labs, Inc. Link Labs creates connectivity technology and solutions for enterprise and industrial customers seeking to derive business value from the Internet of Things (IoT).