Key Strategies For Buying Indoor Location Services in Healthcare

26 April 2021

Indoor location services have become vital for healthcare providers. The ability to track the location of assets, employees, patients, and visitors lowers costs and improves clinical outcomes.

However, purchasing and deploying the wrong indoor location services increases costs, delays deployment, and can result in tension between stakeholders. Facilities managers need to make sure that they choose the right vendor and the right services for their use case.

[On-demand webinar] bridging the it-ot divide in healthcare

X/Y versus Room Level

There are two ways systems can report asset locations:

  1. X/Y tracking. This means that the location of the asset is reported as a set of coordinates. This allows for extremely precise location of assets. Typically, this is used in warehousing and manufacturing. A picker needs to know not only what vague area the item is in, but which shelf it is on.
  2. Room level tracking. In this case, the location is reported as being in a specific room.

While it might seem that X/Y tracking saves a lot of time, the fact is that it is a lot more expensive. The cost of real-time tracking systems is often an obstacle for systems and hospitals. And for the vast majority of hospital use cases, "in this room" is perfectly sufficient. Hospitals track people as well as assets, which doesn't require that level of accuracy.

When it comes to asset tracking, many use cases work perfectly well with a coarser grid. For example if a nurse is locating the nearest defibrillator, they already know where defibrillators are stored; their question is whether there is, in fact, a defibrillator where there is supposed to be one. For loss prevention, the system only needs to flag when a device is removed from the building.

There are a few use cases for which precision tracking is recommended. This might include medication in the hospital pharmacy or lab samples. In this case, a very precise solution could be implemented for specific rooms at a lower cost.

Involvement of All Stakeholders

One of the most common mistakes facilities managers make is to select a system and test it without getting input from IT. This often comes from the false assumption that IT will delay the process. Managers may also be caught up in flashy demos and see a solution that would be awesome, but they don't discuss it with the people who need to implement it.

Not consulting IT can lead to the following:

  1. Significant delays in deployment. For example, if IT is not involved, this often means that security and compliance is not properly considered. IT will then put on the brakes and insist on penetration testing. Adding thousands of devices to the network is an obvious risk, and it can make IT people sweat. By involving them from the start, they can integrate into the existing security systems.
  2. Duplication of effort and infrastructure. If you keep IT in the loop, they can make sure that you are making the best use of existing infrastructure and thus are not buying devices and gateways you don't need. They can also help you avoid siloing data and networks that need to talk to each other.
  3. Extremely high total cost of ownership, especially if you count the time spent by IT managing the system. By involving them from the start, they can tell you if your solution will create unnecessary work for them.
  4. The entire network may be caused to slow down because nobody noticed or realized just how much Wi-Fi bandwidth it was going to take. In at least one case, facilities pulled stuff off of BLE onto Wi-Fi, causing significant issues for the network.
  5. Conflict and tension with IT, which can cause issues moving forward.

Find out why bridging the IT-OT divide is critical and how facility managers benefit from working together here.

While IT is the most commonly left out, it's also important to involve clinical staff (who will have to use the system) and other stakeholders in the process. If you plan on adding an interior navigation system, then talking to patients and visitors about their needs can also be helpful.

Know Your Use Cases

Make sure you know what your specific use case is and what you need. Most hospitals look at the following potential use cases:

  • Environmental monitoring to help protect medications and vaccines from spoilage as well as to ensure patient and visitor comfort.
  • Indoor navigation services to help patients and visitors get on time where they are going. Hospitals can be labyrinths to those not familiar with them, and normal non-digital maps and signage cause anxiety and result in patients being late for appointments.
  • Loss prevention, especially of smaller medical devices which can be inadvertently thrown away, or not retrieved from departing patients.
  • Improved equipment maintenance.
  • Assisting clinical staff in locating equipment and medications quickly, saving time in an emergency and increasing efficiency during routine operations.
  • Helping staff improve the way they move through the building to save time. In large, complex hospitals a lot of time is spent just going from room to room.
  • Systems that can page the closest provider when a patient has a problem.
  • Staff duress systems that allow a nurse or other provider to quickly call for help if a patient or family member becomes confrontational or aggressive.

A smaller clinic might be more focused on loss prevention, environmental monitoring, and equipment maintenance. A large, sprawling hospital has a great need for indoor navigation and asset management. Talking to all stakeholders can help you establish the precise use cases for your facility.

It's important not to overlook a couple of the things on this list that are often forgotten. One important use case is equipment maintenance.

Improving Equipment Maintenance

Those new to RTLS often don't see the connection between location services and equipment maintenance. However, solutions can be developed that greatly improve equipment maintenance programs, and when purchasing a real time location system, you should consider this use case and how it can help you carefully. Here are a few things BLE RTLS can do to help you save money and time on equipment maintenance:

  • Reduce the amount of time spent tracking and rounding inventory. By manual methods, this can take 8 to 10 weeks, and things still might get missed.
  • Allow you to track preventive maintenance due dates by location. Technicians can then plan an efficient route through the hospital to ensure that they get to everything quickly.
  • Free up clinical engineering staff to handle things like training, more urgent repairs, dealing with cybersecurity, etc.
  • Improve clinical outcomes by ensuring equipment works when clinical staff need it.

Hospitals and clinics often don't put nearly enough effort into preventive maintenance and properly tracking it. By adding this to your location services plan, you can save a lot of money and time and improve clinical outcomes.

Scalability

Healthcare is a growth industry and at many levels always will be. Hospitals expand, merge, close, rebuild, and build on new sites (both brown field and green) all the time.

As a hospital system grows, it's important that their tracking solution can grow with them. When a new solution is implemented, systems often start in a single building or part of a building as a pilot then expect the system to scale up.

Make sure that you can easily scale any system you use. One important factor is to avoid the so-called proprietary trap. A shiny demo can lead facilities managers to purchase complicated proprietary systems.

Then they find when they try to scale up that they are limited to buying that vendor's sensors, and the great deal they got buying the first part of the system has evaporated. The best vendors don't try to catch you like that, but many smaller ones will. Make sure that you purchase hardware and software that can work on open platforms and meets standards of compatibility so that you can buy sensors from other vendors and slot in new software easily as you add use cases.

This is another reason to make sure that you involve IT in all stages of the project. Their opinion on both scalability and ease of use is invaluable.

Ease of Use

Last, but not least, don't forget that these systems have to be used by clinical staff. You don't want to be pulling nursing staff off of their regular job to train on the location system or, worse, making people get certificates.

Make sure to choose solutions that don't just claim to be easy to use, but actually look that way to your people on the ground. Your ER director needs to be able to see the flow of people easily. A nurse needs to know how to use the system to find a clean IV pump. Engineering staff need to track maintenance needs.

The more you can centralize everything onto one platform, the better, so there are not multiple siloed systems that people have to learn. Ideally, your system should just work, with minimal effort.

If you are looking into deploying a solution for medical equipment asset tracking or other location services, then contact Kontakt.io today. We have years of experience with the specific needs of healthcare providers and can help you find a solution that meets your needs and helps you lower costs and improve clinical outcomes.

Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

Beacon Buyer’s Guide

Struggling to choose beacon?
Download our free guide to learn more on Bluetooth LE products and select the one that will fit your project needs.
Free download

Active Monitoring in Healthcare

Download our free white paper to find out how data gathered by RTLS can be leveraged into greater efficiencies and cost savings.
Free download

Subscribe to the Kontakt.io Insider

Get the latest industry news, thought leadership, 
and tips straight to your inbox.