IoT vs RTLS in Healthcare - Knowing the Difference

11 October 2021

Regardless of what sector your organization operates in — be it healthcare, retail, manufacturing, logistics, or sport — you will be affected by the wave of digital transformation sweeping the business world. This is a clear indicator that organizations in different markets are likely to increase their adoption of technology and further their investments in connected devices. 

The market for healthcare technologies is crowded and facilities are actively investing in digital transformation. Healthcare facilities utilize multiple technologies, sometimes in combination, to achieve various functions aimed at solving a range of problems. The healthcare industry has continued to adopt Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) and the Internet of Things (IoT). Both RTLS and IoT have created the opportunity for hospitals and healthcare organizations to save both costs and, more importantly, people's safety. Here is everything you need to know about healthcare RTLS and IoT. 

What is RTLS?

You can think of Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) or indoor positioning systems (IPS) as accomplishing the same essential task as the GPS systems of twenty years ago, but indoors. It is used primarily for the purpose of tracking, locating, and monitoring the activity of people and things.

RTLS deployments do exactly what the name says, they let you see where tracked things and people are right now or in near real-time. They have any number of obvious business applications in any sector you care to name and form the basis of a long list of business-critical operations.

Real-Time Location Systems enable businesses to understand and utilize their assets efficiently. That happens by tagging your assets with Bluetooth tags, for example attaching Kontakt.io Asset Tag 2 to an IV pump.

iot in healthcare

RTLS makes daily operations more transparent and facilitates the process of optimization. Along with the development of digital transformation, a number of options and standards have appeared. Bluetooth, UWB, LTE, and Zigbee all provide an essential service to businesses despite using different methods. Getting the most out of a connected infrastructure begins with the choice of a standard, and the technologies available are rapidly evolving. With the recently announced Bluetooth 5.1 standard, Bluetooth offers completely new capabilities to asset tracking at a fraction of the cost of other standards.

It also benefits from a massive existing ecosystem of over 8.2 billion Bluetooth-enabled devices worldwide, making it the most widely adopted standard for short-range wireless communication.

Learn more about RTLS technologies here

While the tracked items within a healthcare facility can move, the tags send transmissions to fixed gateways Portal Light in space. Together, gateway and transmission data reveal the physical location of the tag and correspond to an item at that moment. The digital and real-time version of the location and all associated assets live in RTLS software. It's the software that makes the location data meaningful, translating it into interactive maps, locating tools, heat maps, dashboards, reports, and other features that are important for healthcare applications. 

Want to understand which technology is best for medical device tracking, read more here

What is IoT? 

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the network of devices that can send data to each other through the internet.

Medicine has long been driven by data, from making a diagnosis to prescribing treatments. Currently, the healthcare industry is taking a major step forward in the collection and analysis of high-quality data, thanks to the power of the Internet of Things (IoT). 

IoT can also be thought of as a device that connects to the internet, allowing data to be sent to whoever needs to use it. On a grand scale, the IoT consists of billions of devices and sensors, such as across a supply chain that transmits a continuous stream of data. For healthcare facilities, IoT offers access to better, more accurate, and real-time data that enhances decision-making. 

Hospitals are usually overwhelmed with patient monitoring devices, such as pulse oximeters, CPAP, ventilators, infusion pumps, and ECG machines, among others. Each device is important on its own and signals changes in the patient's status. The combination of patient data from various machines can provide a much more rich and accurate story about the patient's condition. IoT connectivity helps to centralize this data, and the data can then be interpreted and communicated to all healthcare providers through smart technology. The move towards smart technology solves many outstanding health care issues, such as alarm fatigue, training, communication via scraps of paper, robust clinical trials, and more complete evidence-based guidelines.  

The Difference between RTLS and IoT 

The growing trend in healthcare worldwide is preventive, predictive, personalized, and participatory and underlying these trends is the increasing digitization of healthcare. IoT in healthcare refers to a network of connected medical devices that are able to not only generate, collect and store location data but also connect with a network, analyze the data as well as be able to transmit data of various kinds, such as telemetry data, medical images, physiological and vital body signatures, and genomics data. Increasingly, a newer term called the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) to describe connected MedTech products is being used. 

On the other hand, Real-time location systems (RTLS) focus on the detection of a target, anything from a medical device to a person. Such systems consist of wireless tags or badges that emit signals to connected devices, providing accurate real-time location data on processes. RTLS is being used in healthcare to increase equipment usage, and improve staff allocation and security. 

Healthcare Use Examples for IoT 

Here are healthcare use examples of the Internet of Things: 

Remote Monitoring 

Remote patient monitoring is the most common application of IoT devices for healthcare. IoT devices can automatically collect health metrics like heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and more from patients who are not physically present in a healthcare facility, eliminating the need for patients to travel to the providers, or for patients to collect it themselves. 

When an IoT device collects patient data, it forwards the data to a software application where healthcare professionals and/or patients can view it. Algorithms may be used to analyze the data in order to recommend treatments or generate alerts. For example, an IoT sensor that detects a patient's unusually low heart rate may generate an alert so that healthcare professionals can intervene. A major challenge with remote patient monitoring devices is ensuring that the highly personal data that these IoT devices collect is secure and private.

The IoMT provides connectivity with the patient, the room, and the presence of health care personnel that permits a truly new level of management of patients.

IoMT can transform the way Emergency Medical Services are conducted on a range of issues, like the management of available beds. With sensors such as Portal Beam tracking patient room occupancy or Asset Tags 2 tracking beds, and even such issues as the availability of blood types in a hospital's blood bank, EMT personnel in an ambulance can identify the best hospital for their patient. This is the interconnectivity of all elements of the healthcare system that is possible with the IoMT.

The benefits are measured in terms of the quality of patient care, the efficient employment of facilities and increasingly impressive savings as the IoMT reduces the unnecessary time of professional staff and, crucially, leverages the effectiveness of time spent by professional staff.

When a patient walks into the emergency room, that patient now can be tagged with a bracelet so that any waiting time can be used to triage patients. At the same time, the monitoring of patient rooms can inform the ER immediately when a hospital room is available. In effect, the challenge of patient triage in the ER is addressed by the data available.

iot use cases in healthcare

In the patient's room, Nano Tag patient wristbands and a fixed Portal Beam can keep the hospital informed of how many people are in the room.

The same technology can monitor other hospital facilities to track how many people are there. Badges for all hospital staff track their location in the hospital (including when they arrive at the facility or leave).

BUY PORTAL BEAM

Pfizer and IBM Use Case 

Pfizer and IBM's partnership uses IoT technology to track the effectiveness of Parkinson's drugs and make any necessary dosage adjustments in real-time while enhancing doctor-patient communication. Pfizer and IBM recently developed a "Parkinson's house" that's decked out with sensors on everything from the fridge handles and cupboards to doors and beds. It detects even the smallest variation in a patient's movements. The data that's collected is then wirelessly beamed to scientists, who in turn analyze the patient's progress and medication responsiveness.

Check how IoT helps with Covid pharma temperature monitoring

Keeping Incidences of Infection Down

Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) are prevalent in today's facilities and can be particularly dangerous due to the number of individuals an infected person could come in contact with during a single day. Also, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that at any given time in a hospital environment, about one in 25 people have HAIs. The initial motivation that facilities often have for using IoT is the desire to reduce the number of medical devices that get lost or stolen each year. And that is a valid reason for using IoT. Some such systems show equipment location data, plus give staff alerts about necessary replenishments. But some hospitals are also using the technology to fight infections. 

There are several ways to apply IoT that way. For example, once a facility becomes aware that a patient has a dangerous infection, the tracking system could monitor where that person goes in the hospital and which equipment or rooms are potentially contaminated. Also, IoT helps reduce the spread of infection by providing more transparency about which patients have infections and therefore requires staff members to take extra precautions for protection. In facilities without IoT, such information is often manually prepared and may not reach all the people who enter the room of an infected person. Since IoT tracks patient locations, it's easy for people to see exactly where infected patients are before going into their rooms, giving them the knowledge needed to stay maximally protected from possible exposure.

Healthcare Use Examples for RTLS

Here are some of the use cases of RTLS in healthcare

Reducing Medical Equipment Repairs 

Without the medical equipment used for patient diagnostics and care, hospitals would be unable to adequately meet the needs of patients and the people who provide care. When medical equipment breaks down, facilities have to invest in new machines or rent them to meet demand. Sometimes, the inability to source equipment when needed causes severe disruptions to patient care. 

At some healthcare facilities, this issue can be so severe that nurses begin hoarding equipment due to fear of not being able to otherwise get it when needed. This is an example of how an RTLS can make hospitals more aware of the equipment they own. Then, they can use that equipment to benefit patients instead of having to rely on third-party resources, such as rental companies.

Giving Workers Access To Urgent Assistance In Emergencies

Some RTLS platforms include a component that allows workers to immediately alert others to emergencies. For example, a nurse might be in the room of a psychiatric patient who suddenly becomes violent or a provider could check a patient's vital signs when the person stops breathing. In cases like those, prompt action reduces adverse outcomes. 

If hospitals invest in RTLS systems with panic button components, they could help workers feel safer when circumstances take unexpected turns. Plus, knowing that the technology exists could enhance peace of mind for patients. They'll realize that no matter what happens, anyone in the vicinity with a panic button can call for additional help when needed.

At Kontakt.io, we imagine a future where doctors and patients are connected, administrative tasks are eliminated and decision making is automated, as well as driven by data. We help your healthcare facility access valuable data by making your hospital smarter with simple, affordable, and impactful solutions. Contact us to learn more and get started. 

Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

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    [Updated for 2020]
    [Updated for 2020]