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The Role of RTLS in a Post-Pandemic Health System


Real-time location systems (RTLS) could become instrumental in health care systems as the world makes its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. RTLS technology can track people and item-based assets, helping keep productivity high and ensuring operations run smoothly

Before making serious plans to implement RTLS, healthcare decision-makers must meet with the IT team and have in-depth discussions about how the technology will work and its role in its use. Here are some compelling ways today’s health care systems could opt to use RTLS. 

Getting Staff Help During Violent Incidents

Statistics show that as many as 38% of health care workers experience violence at work during their careers. Additionally, a poll of registered nurses in the United States found that 20% experienced increased workplace violence during the pandemic due to several factors, including decreased staff numbers and visitation restrictions. 

These incidents can happen in a split second and occur without warning. However, RTLS can get people to help faster during such emergencies. For example, a person could press a button on their badge and instantly give their name and location, ensuring that assistance reaches them quickly. 

IT teams should consult with health care workers about which features they’d find most useful for such tech. For example, some setups show if a person’s location changes after making the initial duress call. Additionally, there’s usually the option to get alerts in several formats, such as text messages, display screens, or email.

Health care workers accept that they must work in high-pressure environments. However, when tensions are high, it’s increasingly likely that violent incidents could happen. It’s impossible to predict all violence before it occurs, but RTLS technology helps workers feel more at ease, knowing they can get efficient help when needed. 

Protecting Profitability and Satisfaction

RTLS technology can also help health facilities safeguard their bottom lines. In such cases, opportunities exist to elevate patient satisfaction levels and make health care workers feel happier about their employment situations. One survey found that 62% of nursing professionals older than 54 were thinking about retirement, and most intended to do so within three years. 

The pandemic likely raised that figure, especially since it caused so many health care workers to feel burned out and near their breaking points. RTLS cannot stop people from leaving the workforce, but it could cause some to delay making that choice. 

For example, since RTLS tracking extends to people and things, it can confirm whether there are enough available technicians to handle the day’s workload in the radiology department or anywhere else in a hospital. When staff shortages cause problems, the people working on the affected shifts most often feel the pinch. Dealing with a persistent lack of necessary staff could cause frustration and accelerate their decision to quit. 

Similarly, staff shortages could irritate patients by resulting in longer waiting times in emergency departments or making it harder to get appointments for elective procedures. When that happens, people who can choose will decide to visit other hospitals, cutting into the profitability of the struggling facilities. 

Before implementing RTLS solutions, the IT department should get feedback from hospital staff about the biggest setbacks they experience during a typical workday. Looking for tech products that could ease those difficulties should raise satisfaction rates and help facilities stay profitable. 

Maintaining Visibility of All Assets

The COVID-19 pandemic quickly caused shortages of protective equipment meant to keep health care workers safe. However, the lack of availability in the global supply chain is only part of the problem. Issues also result if health care centers have ordered the supplies but have misplaced them or are otherwise unaware of what’s on hand.

However, real-time asset tracking improves patient care by showing the accurate locations of all equipment and supplies in a health setting, whether those items show heart rate, glucose level or something else. Such technology can also verify that the right employees use certain assets. For example, equipment often needs specialized training to operate safely. 

Jakob Skaaren Nielsen, CEO of Healthcare Denmark, explained how his country’s healthcare facilities used RTLS. “Hospitals which had already implemented real-time location systems (RTLS) were able to pinpoint immediately and document equipment and capacity to handle COVID-19 patients,” he said.

He continued, “Shortages of personal protection equipment (PPE) have been an issue for many hospitals, and RTLS tracking of supplies enabled hospitals to report their stock status similarly, in order to ensure that both capacity and needed supplies were available for new COVID-19 patients.”

The ability to see the location of items and people in real-time will undoubtedly come in handy after the pandemic, too. Employes at health care facilities handle urgent situations daily. Getting confirmation that they have the necessary supplies to deal with them significantly aids decision-making. 

Reducing Infection Rates

The high transmissibility of COVID-19 required introducing new measures to keep people safe from infections, including establishing contact tracing measures and physical distancing. However, health care-associated infections (HAIs) were problematic long before the pandemic affected the world. 

Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 1 in 31 hospital patients has at least one HAI every day. RTLS could help reduce this number. 

For example, sensors on soap dispensers could detect when someone arrives at a hand-washing station. It could then inform the person when they have used soap and water for the minimum amount of time for maximum effectiveness. Similarly, such technology could issue alerts when someone completes a task and does not clean their hands afterward. 

RTLS plays a role in fighting infections due to unclean equipment, too. For example, it could show how long a reusable medical device has been in a sterilization machine, helping hospital workers verify when the product will be ready to use with the next patient. 

Moving Toward the Post-Pandemic Future

The COVID-19 pandemic is still wreaking havoc worldwide, but it’s appropriate to assess what health care systems might look like after it passes. These examples show why RTLS should play a prominent role in such discussions.

Even though IT teams don’t participate in direct patient care, their oversight regarding RTLS rollouts is crucial for helping the technology reach its maximum potential. They can also get feedback regarding needs and goals and choose the most beneficial tech that gives real-time updates.

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