Healthcare executives are continuously evaluating the subject of RFID and RTLS in general. Whether it is to maintain the hospitals competitive advantage, accomplish a differentiation in the market, improve compliance with requirements of (AORN, JCAHO, CDC) or improve asset utilization and operating efficiency. As part of the evaluations there is that constant concern around a tangible and measurable ROI for these solutions that can come at a significant price.
When considering the areas that RTLS can affect within the hospital facilities as well as other patient care units, there are at least four significant points to highlight:
Disease surveillance: With hospitals dealing with different challenges around disease management and how to handle it. RTLS technology can determine each and every staff member who could have potentially been in contact with a patient classified as highly contagious or with a specific condition.
Hand hygiene compliance: Many health systems are reporting hand hygiene compliance as part of safety and quality initiatives. Some use “look-out” staff to walk the halls and record all hand hygiene actives. However, with the introduction of RTLS hand hygiene protocol and compliance when clinical staff enter or use the dispensers can now be dynamically tracked and reported on. Currently several of the systems that are available today are also providing active alters to the clinicians whenever they enter a patient’s room and haven’t complied with the hand hygiene guidelines.
Locating equipment for maintenance and cleaning:
Having the ability to identify the location of equipment that is due for routine maintenance or cleaning is critical to ensuring the safety of patients. RTLS is capable of providing alerts on equipment to staff.
A recent case of a hospital spent two months on a benchmarking analysis and found that it took on average 22 minutes to find an infusion pump. After the implementation of RTLS, it took an average of two minutes to find a pump. This cuts down on lag time in care and can help ensure that clinicians can have the tools and equipment they need, when the patient needs it.
There are also other technologies and products which have been introduced and integrated into some of the current RTLS systems available.
There are several RTLS systems that are integrated with Bed management systems as well as EHR products that are able to deliver patient order status, alerts within the application can also be given. This has enabled nurses to take advantage of being in one screen and seeing a summary of updated patient related information.
Unified Communication systems:
Nurse calling systems have enabled nurses to communicate anywhere the device is implemented within the hospital facility, and to do so efficiently. These functionalities are starting to infiltrate the RTLS market and for some of the Unified Communication firms, it means that their structures can now provide a backbone for system integrators to simply integrate their functionality within their products.
In many of the recent implementations of RTLS products, hospital executives opted to deploy the solutions within one specific area to pilot the solutions. Many of these smaller implementations succeed and allow the decision makers to evaluate and measure the impacts these solutions can have on their environment. There are several steps that need to be taken into consideration when implementing asset tracking systems:
• Define the overall goals and driving forces behind the initiative
• Develop challenges and opportunities the RTLS solution will be able to provide
• Identify the operational area that would yield to the highest impact with RTLS
• Identify infrastructure requirements and technology of choice (WiFi based, RFID based, UC integration, interface capability requirements)
• Define overall organizational risks associated with these solutions
• Identify compliance requirements around standards of use
RFID is one facet of sensory data that is being considered by many health executives. It is providing strong ROI for many of the adapters applying it to improve care and increase efficiency of equipment usage, as well as equipment maintenance and workflow improvement. While there are several different hardware options to choose from, and technologies ranging from Wi-Fi to IR/RF, this technology has been showing real value and savings that health care IT and supply chain executives alike can’t ignore.
It was not long after mankind invented the wheel, carts came around. Throughout history people have been mounting wheels on boxes, now we have everything from golf carts, shopping carts, hand carts and my personal favorite, hotdog carts. So you might ask yourself, “What is so smart about a medical cart?”
Today’s medical carts have evolved to be more than just a storage box with wheels. Rubbermaid Medical Solutions, one of the largest manufacturers of medical carts, have created a cart that is specially designed to house computers, telemedicine, medical supply goods and to also offer medication dispensing. Currently the computers on the medical carts are used to provide access to CPOE, eMAR, and EHR applications.
With the technology trend of mobility quickly on the rise in healthcare, organizations might question the future viability of medical carts. However a recent HIMSS study showed that cart use, at the point of care, was on the rise from 26 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2011. The need for medical carts will continue to grow; as a result, cart manufacturers are looking for innovative ways to separate themselves from their competition. Medical carts are evolving from healthcare products to healthcare solutions. Instead of selling medical carts with web cameras, carts manufacturers are developing complete telemedicine solutions that offer remote appointments throughout the country, allowing specialist to broaden their availability with patients in need. Carts are even interfaced with eMAR systems that are able to increase patient safety; the evolution of the cart is rapidly changing the daily functions of the medical field.
Some of the capabilities for medical carts of the future will be to automatically detect their location within a healthcare facility. For example if a cart is improperly stored in a hallway for an extended period of time staff could be notified to relocate it in order to comply to the Joint Commission’s requirements. Real-time location information for the carts could allow them to automatically process tedious tasks commonly performed by healthcare staff. When a cart is rolled into a patient room it could automatically open the patient’s electronic chart or give a patient visit summary through signals exchanged between then entering cart and the logging device kept in the room and effectively updated.
Autonomous robots are now starting to be used in larger hospitals such as the TUG developed by Aethon. These robots increase efficiency and optimize staff time by allowing staff to focus on more mission critical items. Medical carts in the near future will become smart robotic devices able to automatically relocate themselves to where they are needed. This could be used for scheduled telemedicine visits, the next patient in the rounding queue or for automated medication dispensing to patients.
Innovation will continue in medical carts as the need for mobile workspaces increase. What was once considered a computer in a stick could be the groundwork for care automation in the future.
This has been an eventful year for speech recognition companies. We are seeing an increased development of intelligence systems that can interact via voice. Siri was simply a re-introduction of digital assistants into the consumer market and since then, other mobile platforms have implemented similar capabilities.
In hospitals and physician’s practices the use of voice recognition products tend to be around the traditional speech-to-text dictation for SOAP (subjective, objective, assessment, plan) notes, and some basic voice commands to interact with EHR systems. While there are several new initiatives that will involve speech recognition, natural language understanding and decision support tools are becoming the focus of many technology firms. These changes will begin a new era for speech engine companies in the health care market.
While there is clearly tremendous value in using voice solutions to assist during the capture of medical information, there are several other uses that health care organizations can benefit from. Consider a recent product by Nuance called “NINA”, short for Nuance Interactive Natural Assistant. This product consists of speech recognition technologies that are combined with voice biometrics and natural language processing (NLP) that helps the system understand the intent of its users and deliver what is being asked of them.
This app can provide a new way to access health care services without the complexity that comes with cumbersome phone trees, and website mazes. From a patient’s perspective, the use of these virtual assistants means improved patient satisfaction, as well as quick and easy access to important information.
Two areas we can see immediate value in are:
Customer service: Simpler is always better, and with NINA powered Apps, or Siri like products, patients can easily find what they are looking for. Whether a patient is calling a payer to see if a procedure is covered under their plan, or contacting the hospital to inquire for information about the closest pediatric urgent care. These tools will provide a quick way to get access to the right information without having to navigate complex menus.
Accounting and PHR interaction: To truly see the potential of success for these solutions, we can consider some of the currently used cases that NUANCE has been exhibiting. In looking at it from a health care perspective, patients would have the ability to simply ask to schedule a visit without having to call. A patient also has the ability to call to refill their medication.
Nuance did address some of the security concerns by providing tools such as VocalPassword that will tackle authentication. This would help verify the identity of patients who are requesting services and giving commands. As more intelligence voice-driven systems mature, the areas to focus on will be operational costs, customer satisfaction, and data capture.
Health care IT continues to be an exciting world. IT provides help with making a difference to patients, all the way to the ability to participate in true change in health delivery. But as we continue to see an increase in the number of technology providers and technology jobs, the health care market is getting picky about whom they are partnering with and hiring.
In the past, IT was constantly dealing with hardware upkeep, software upgrades and new installations. In some cases, this demanded a large number of IT folks to execute the work and keep the systems running smoothly in the health care settings. But as we continue to see the shift in using virtualization, cloud-based apps and virtual desktops, the market has been demanding less of the traditional IT support needs and more of proactive, consultative and value add services.
This is forcing technology providers to rethink their offerings and strategy to stay with the demand of the market. While there are several technology companies offering IT services and managed services, the market is looking for business value and how to maximize the use of existing systems and further align IT with core objectives. This simply means that technology partners must have a much deeper understanding of health care, and technologies in general.
The top 6 areas in which IT providers must provide strong value to health care organizations:
1. A strong health care understanding, ranging from policy, clinical workflows, compliance, and regulatory requirements
2. Emerging technologies such as mHealth, medical devices, telemedicine and other areas
3. Upcoming technology hard and soft trends
4. Seeing technology as an enabler for providing an organization with tangible value and not gadgets
5. System integration abilities
6. Strong project management experience especially around EHR implementations
The changes in health care continue to focus on improving patient care and identifying effective ways to reduce costs and improve efficiency. This provides technology partners with incredible opportunities to add value. Whether the partner is the internal IT department or an outside service provider, health care organizations will continue to be excited about how technology can help make a difference.