Industry Insights

Hospital Patient and Staff Tracking with IoT

By implementing an IoT system, hospitals can track staff and patient locations to produce valuable insights and generate long-term improveme

Dani Broderick
July 21, 2020

A hospital can be an extremely stressful and chaotic environment for patients and staff alike. No matter what perspective you look at, every second counts in a hospital setting. Any second wasted is time that could be spent caring for a patient, providing anxiously anticipated information, and ultimately getting people out of the hospital and back to their normal lives. As patient volumes continue to expand, currently at unprecedented rates, how will hospitals keep pace with demand while providing the best care for patients? The answer is proving to be IoT.
Particularly in the face of a global pandemic, the healthcare technology industry has started exploring new technology to address pain points and inefficiencies. Here are some of the questions that they are asking:

  • How can we optimize our workforce in the coming weeks and months?
  • How can we ensure patients are being monitored and cared for effectively?
  • How can we identify and reduce bottlenecks in hospital operations such as room cleaning and turnover? 
  • How can we monitor infectious or compromised patients to contain and reduce spread? 

By addressing these questions, hospitals can create safe, efficient, and effective environments for both staff and patients. 

But here’s the problem. Many hospitals use charting and paging systems as the backbone of their workflows. For example, when a patient is discharged from a room, nurses can page the cleaning staff or submit an electronic ticket for the room to be cleaned. While these methods certainly get the job done, there are a number of limitations including:

  • Multiple touch points: Such as the cleaning example above, many processes require a chain of stakeholders to move tasks along. 
  • Manual processes: Doctors and nurses want to spend as much time as possible taking care of patients, not filling out forms or waiting to hear back from another staff member 
  • Limited insight: Depending on a patient's condition and circumstances, nurses may need to check in with their patients multiple times every hour or may need to remain within the eye line of their patient. Adherence to these guidelines can be costly to staff time and can prevent nurses from accomplishing much else.
  • Not real-time: Hospitals lack the ability to track and aggregate patient movement and occupancy throughout the building, leading to congestion or possibly compromising patient safety.
  • Inefficient workforce planning: Without monitoring current staffing levels and capacity constraints, hospitals are not able to anticipate and track staffing needs for changing patient volumes and trends.

By implementing an IoT system, hospitals gain the ability to track staff and patient location to produce valuable insights and generate long term improvements in care delivery. By tracking and aggregating data, hospitals will be able to:

Automate processes: By tracking patient location, the system can use analytics to determine when a patient has been discharged and automatically dispatch staff to prepare the room for the next patient. Additionally, by tracking cleaning staff location, the system can determine when a room is clean and ready for the next patient

Ensure compliance: A location-based tracking solution could easily track when a doctor or nurse enters a patient room to ensure patients are receiving proper care and prove that the hospital is following any necessary guidelines. 

Improve real-time patient monitoring and alerting: Nurses and other staff responsible for patients can receive real-time alerts when their patients leave their room or enter restricted areas. Additional sensors could be integrated to alert care takers to falls or other safety concerns. 

Contain infections: By indicating a patient or zone as compromised due to an infectious disease, hospitals can monitor hot spots and receive alerts if compromised patients come into contact with other patients, staff, or equipment that could lead to spread. 

Anticipate staffing needs: Hospital admins can use a mix of real-time data and predictive analytics to better prepare for fluctuating patient volumes.

With so many patients coming in and out of a hospital on any given day, it’s important that trackers used to collect patient location are either reusable or come at a low enough cost that they can be disposed of and replaced. There are already companies that have started to create inexpensive, waterproof RFID tags that can be affixed to patient wristbands to enable simple installation, anonymous data tracking, and eliminate the need to power or charge. The RFID readers could then be positioned in key areas to automatically track patient occupancy and movement. 

RFID is great for room- or zone-level tracking, but it won’t give you exact positioning within the space. More complex and detailed location tracking would require an alternative or integrated approach with position technology such as infrared or Bluetooth. You can also integrate additional sensors and tags to track hand washing, fall detection, and other important events to layer on top of location data. However, this all would increase the overall cost of the solution, making it potentially unattainable for smaller health systems which is a big issue within the Smart Hospital space. 

When it comes to connectivity, you’ll likely want a direct connection and to stay away from the hospital’s WiFi network where possible to avoid security concerns. You can use WiFi or PoE to aggregate the data within the hospital but use cellular to back haul everything to the cloud. 

Dani Broderick

Director, Product Management

As a mechanical engineering by education with a passion for human-centered design, Dani enjoys applying her technical background to help solve multifaceted problems. She also enjoys a variety of creative hobbies including watercolor painting, cooking, and writing (to the delight of her playwright mother). Her favorite genre of books is autobiographies and her backhand in tennis is pretty killer.

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