Asset tracking is not a luxury, but a requirement for modern hospitals to stay up to date with best practices. The inability to quickly locate critical medical equipment in settings such as the emergency room has direct consequences: the cost of human lives. Today, healthcare providers should not be debating whether or not to invest in a hospital asset tracking solution if their number one priority is providing the best care for their patients.
Hospital asset tracking has been proven to have ROI in increased operational efficiency, patient satisfaction, and improved patient outcomes. Before diving into the hardware used in a hospital asset tracking solution, let’s explore what makes up a top-performing hospital asset tracking solution.
Every successful deployment of a hospital asset tracking solution begins with a successful installation. The installation should be as smooth and organized as possible from start to finish. The solutions provider needs to be able to outline what will happen on install day and simultaneously coordinate with all stakeholders. The fewer physical infrastructure changes required, the better. The last thing you want is your team on the ground impacting daily hospital operations.
Tags associated with assets need to last a minimum of one year, if not longer. Tags which require frequent replacement end up creating an operational nightmare. Tags should also be able to report battery life so they can be replaced towards the end of their lifecycle. You never want to have to deal with losing visibility on your asset due to a dead tag.
A successful hospital asset tracking solution provider will provide ongoing training after install. Providers will ensure that all stakeholders know how to use the system in place. What does this mean? This means that the solution provider makes sure its customers know how to navigate the application where assets are being displayed, added and managed on the system.
Solution providers need to go beyond providing a simple update of where assets are located. Interesting features to explore within a hospital asset tracking solution include frequency in which equipment is used, areas where specific equipment is clustered, and alerts when assets leave designated areas.
Are you interested in tracking things or people? Is the asset moveable or stationary? How often do you need to know where the object or person is located? What happens in edge cases (partial line-of-sight or no line-of-sight)? These questions impact what your technology stack will look like for your solution. By being able to answer these questions clearly, you will be able to define the requirements (responsiveness, accuracy, precision) of your hospital asset tracking solution. The hospital asset tracking solution must be able to stand against any real-life scenarios.
Now that you know what elements make up a hospital asset tracking solution, let's discuss how you should go about selecting hardware.
Below are a list of devices that are currently used in hospital asset tracking solutions based on publicly available research. Something that is not uncommon that you will start to see is that many solution providers combine and share technologies in their solutions.
Technology Stack: Wi-Fi, CenTrak’s Gen2IR, RF Low Frequency
Devices: Monitor, Tags, Low Frequency Exciters, Virtual Wall
CenTrak’s system is made up of several devices. The monitor emits infrared signals containing location information to tags used in CenTrak’s system. The monitor is a key component in specifying zone/room level accuracy. The virtual wall adds another layer on top and creates boundaries enabling sub-room level accuracy. In addition, CenTrak provides a plethora of tags to meet form size and battery requirements. The LF Exciter hardware is used as part of the alerting system. All the hardware above can be battery powered or wired.
One key thing to note about this solution is that IT will most likely need to be involved. The solution relies on a WiFi network to backhaul data to the cloud for processing before it reaches the end user application. Hospitals have many security measures in place when it comes to using their network infrastructure, thus the need for IT to be on board. An unstable WiFi network poses the biggest risk for the solution.
Technology Stack: Intelligent RFID, SymphonyLink (LoRa), LTE-M
Devices: Bluetooth Low Energy tags & Beacons
LinkLabs has a product called AirFinder that they use for indoor positioning and asset tracking. The hardware used in their solution includes BLE tags and Beacons. The main advantage of BLE tags is longer battery life due to the efficiency at which messages are sent. Longer battery life translates into tremendous savings when you come to realize that tags don't need to be replaced every year. In addition, the range of BLE beacons results in less hardware required for the same, if not more coverage.
One important thing to note about their the LinkLabs hardware is that it backhauls using SymphonyLink (LinkLabs version of LoRa) or LTE-M rather than WiFi. This means the hardware is not dependent on the hospital’s WiFi network. With LinkLabs providing their own network infrastructure, IT doesn't have to get involved with installment making everybody’s job easier.
Technology Stack: Ultrasound, WiFi, RF Low Frequency
Devices: Quad-LTs (Location Transmitters)
Smart Tags/Badges: Parallex™
Sonitor’s Quad LTs hardware transmits ultrasound signals which are all synced up using a gateway. The tags which have received the transmitted ultrasound signals then relay their location information using WiFi as a backhaul. WiFi is heavy on energy consumption and this impacts the battery life of the tags. The Sonitor sense location transmitters add further accuracy and precision with specified zones. The Parallex™ is a two-in-one offering that Sonitor offers as a dual location transmitter and access point.
From a physical infrastructure standpoint, CenTrak and Sonitor share the most similarities in quantity of required hardware for the solution. Centrak and Sonitor also both require the usage of a hospital's WiFi network. On the other hand, LinkLabs has significantly reduced the quantity of hardware required in its solution to deploy in the same amount of space. The benefits of using LinkLabs network infrastructure, which remains separate from the hospitals, provides great security benefits for all parties. The tags in CenTrak and Sonitors may not last as long as LinkLabs, but they are able to provide data on a more frequent basis. In future articles, I plan to talk more about how the type of signal (Ultrasound, IR, RF) used and the environment you are in impacts your asset tracking solution.
IoT Changes Everything™ for hospitals and the transformation of hospitals has been inevitable.
Hospitals committed to providing quality care from the time a patient enters a hospital to the time they are discharged will have a hospital asset tracking solution in place. Hospital asset tracking solutions empower people to be more efficient, reduce cost in lost equipment, and most importantly save lives.