How many coach potatoes do you think there are out there, got a FitBit for the holidays and made good on their New Year’s resolutions to become chiselled fitness buffs — they all did, right? All these people started tracking themselves, gained detailed insights into every step back and forth from the fridge between Netflix binges, and through the power of visibility with informative dashboards and a fancy app, they put down the Häagen-Dazs and turned their life completely around.
The same thing happened with RTLS across the healthcare industry. Never mind the size, age of the facility or makeup of the physical environment, every hospital that bought into RTLS for asset tracking in the past decade gained visibility into the every tagged asset. As a result, biomedical engineers knew exactly where every medical device was and what condition it was in, nurses received those devices when they needed them, money was saved, patients were happy, and nobody had to get off the couch.
Implementing RTLS & RFID in Healthcare
Successful implementation of RTLS and RFID in healthcare is just as much about knowing what the technology alone can’t do, as it is in understanding what it can. Tracking is not an off the shelf technology and one size certainly does not fit all. Successful implementation of tracking involves following the entire story arc of a problem — from beginning to end — to find the root cause or causes of inefficiency in workflow. Hospitals need to determine the use-case for their asset tracking before buying into software dashboards, map views, apps, antennas, readers and tags. The type of technology employed can change depending on the asset, its size, function, and how it’s distributed and utilized across the hospital setting.
In their research study, first published in 2011 for the International Journal of Medical Informatics, Vanderbilt researchers Jill A. Fisher and Torin Monahan assessed the functionality and effects of RTLS that had been implemented across 23 U.S. hospitals. Two major takeaways from the study were “substandard functionality of most real-time location systems” and “serious obstacles to effective deployment of the systems due to the material and organizational constraints of the hospitals themselves.”
When a hospital is looking to track and monitor assets and equipment what do they really need? What is the problem their looking to solve through the technology? It varies from hospital to hospital, and the tools for each solution differ as well. Are they looking to track beds, pumps, wheelchairs or all of the above? It could be loss prevention, workflow optimization and equipment delivery, preventative maintenance, safety and compliance, or all of the above. As the researchers point out: “Implementation of RTLS must go beyond the simple deployment of technology to be effective. In advance of selecting a tracking technology, plans need to be designed that will detail what goals RTLS will meet, who will manage and operate the system, and how buy-in will be obtained from personnel.” Buy-in means that, while biomedical engineering departments might maintain and operate the tracking system, it’s important for clinical departments to understand the need and use of those technologies in improving the delivery of care. With new technology often comes new workflow procedures, and it's crucial that each department understand their roles within the new system.
Workflow and Buy-in
It seems obvious, but the systems and processes that are integrated with RTLS and RFID have to be trusted and used in order to work. It’s a wild concept, I know, but there are plenty of abandoned tracking technologies in the form of dead tags, abandoned readers and lonely workstations on wheels in hospitals across the country. This type of outcome occurs is in large part because there isn't cross-departmental buy-in, or the root causes of inefficiency weren’t fully understood, or the technology’s capability was overpromised and it underperformed. While tracking technologies are continuing to get better and better each year, it’s important to note that even in a hypothetically “perfect” system, if the technology is simply overlaid on top of broken workflow, it’s like building on quicksand. Tracking isn’t going to change the negative culture of a given hospital — be it lack of departmental communication, transparency and trust, and/or systemic workflow inefficiency — any more than the band around a wrist will motivate a lazy person.
If you happen to check out the official FitBit blog, the customer success stories aren’t centered on health tracking being the sole reason people lost weight and got into shape. They start with people consciously making lifestyle changes, like eating healthier foods and smaller portions. They start taking more walks or climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Tracking this behavior allows the individual to actively monitor the progress of their workouts and activity. They establish KPI’s and benchmarks, and with this tangible data they have attainable goals and added motivation to reach and exceed those benchmarks. So they set out each week, adding to the number of stairs climbed, or the distance and pace of their runs, calories burned, etc. The band around their wrist helped keep track of things, a sleek mobile app with intuitive dashboards certainly keeps them informed and engaged, but they still had to do the work and get off the couch. All the visibility in the world didn't change that fact.