Healthcare IoT: The Tech Enabling Real-Time Location Technology

Christopher Thompson -
Illustration: © IoT For All

As many have noted, IoT promises to transform the healthcare industry in the near future and beyond. One application is real-time location technology, which in recent years has led to a new standard of quality and efficiency in healthcare. 

Real-time location technology saves valuable clinician time by ensuring that the right resources are available at the right location, automates tasks based on location, and improves the discharge process and room turnover. It helps healthcare leaders identify bottlenecks in patient care delivery and increase resource utilization and patient satisfaction. And its benefits continue to expand as new use cases are developed and the technology advances. 

But How Does It Work? 

In healthcare, there are a plethora of devices used for their ability to provide location details, with some of the top devices including wireless access points, smartphones, beacons and sophisticated tags or badges. The ability of each of these devices to impact patient care or provide actionable notifications for clinicians and hospital staff depends on aligning the right technology with the right use case. 

Let’s take a look at the two underlying technologies that enable these devices to improve hospital operations: radio frequency-only based (RF-only) technology and certainty-based locating technologies.

Wall Penetrating Technologies: RF-Only

RF-based technology is commonplace throughout several different industries. Its location signals penetrate through walls, making it a useful technology for use cases in large open areas or when you need to know an approximate location, within 30 ft such as in basic asset tracking. This is especially true in situations where rules-based algorithms are not in use and there is an expected level of uncertainty, since the RF can easily bleed through walls. Some common RF-based technologies include WiFi, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee, Ultra High Frequency and Low Frequency (LF).

Wall Constrained Technologies: Certainty-Based 

In contrast to RF technologies, which can bleed through walls and ceilings, certainty-based technologies such as Infrared and Ultrasound can be constrained to a defined area. This feature is critical for the accurate location of staff, patients and critical assets like medical equipment. Users can create software-defined rules that allow for the automation of rules-based workflows. These workflows aid in the facilitation of hospital throughput with direct correlations to better utilization of resources, decreased wait-times, and better patient satisfaction. 

Which Technologies Are Best By Use Case?

There are several specific use cases for real-time location services that each have a core set of technology requirements. For example, asset location requires at a minimum the utilization of an RF-only network that provides a flexible and easily scalable solution and provides an estimated location within approximately 30 feet. RF-only technology is a great option for use cases that aren’t dependent on automation and don’t include rules-based workflows.

One advantage of some RF-only networks is that they utilize standard network protocols, allowing healthcare institutions to utilize a variety of devices such as smartphones, beacons, and a variety of patient, staff, and asset tags.  

Compared to RF-only networks, certainty-based networks offer precision that is necessary for use cases like automating processes such as nurse call cancellation, EMR (Electronic Medical Record) documentation, hand hygiene compliance, and quickly locating patients or staff members in duress. Additionally, RF-only use cases can also leverage these networks enabling asset management and PAR-level management. 

Certainty based technologies can easily contain specific areas, such as room-level, bed-level and chair-level in open areas that are not constrained by walls. 

The Real-Time Location Services Journey

As technology continues to evolve and more possibilities emerge, it’s crucial to ensure that healthcare organizations are applying the correct technology and infrastructure to appropriately meet the specific needs of their facilities. 

For flexibility and agility, and short-term cost savings RF-only technology might be your first choice. For precision and advanced automation, nothing surpasses the sophistication of having a technology that can support both simple BLE and WiFi-based applications as well as scale up to support certainty-based applications. Often, after careful consideration, facilities choose to use a combination to meet varying needs throughout the enterprise. Regardless of what technology is chosen, it’s difficult to overstate the value that location-based technology can bring to a healthcare system.

Author
Christopher Thompson - RN and Director of Sales, Patient Flow with CenTrak, CenTrak

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IoT For All
IoT For All
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...
Guest writers are IoT experts and enthusiasts interested in sharing their insights with the IoT industry through IoT For All. If you're interested in contributing to IoT For All, cli...