Keeping patients and employees safe is always a challenge for hospitals, which have to worry about everything from infection control, falls, belligerent patients, and the fire alarm going off. Location data can help.
Real-time location is one way hospitals are improving safety for everyone in the building. Here are some ways location data can improve safety in hospitals.
The traditional hospital wristband is now a lot smarter. Tracking the location of patients in real-time can ensure that they are always where they are supposed to be. If a confused patient gets out of bed and wanders off, staff can find them quickly—ideally before they fall and injure themselves or find their way out of the hospital.
Location data can also keep patients from wandering into dangerous, restricted areas. Patients can be stubborn and may insist on trying to use the bathroom on their own before they are ready. Also, if a patient is moved, location tracking makes sure that staff can find them even if they were not informed.
In the event of a mass casualty event, these location data tags can greatly save time when tracking and triaging patients, even if they are put in beds in corridors.
By using Bluetooth tags in visitor badges, hospitals can keep track of visitors and make sure they stay in areas they are allowed to be in. This is important for infection control (there are some wards you really can't have people wandering into), keeping people out of unsafe areas, etc. Some hospitals have started issuing long-term badges to regular visitors (and to outpatients), which negates the need to check in with a receptionist and saves everyone a lot of time while continuing to ensure patient security.
By ensuring that visitors stay on track and don't wander, the location data system reduces the amount of time they stay in the hospital. This then reduces the risk of contamination in either direction. Additionally, location data can be collected to ensure that visitors are directed along routes they are likely to use. This can help plan the flow of people through the hospital in an efficient way. For example, you might want to send visitors in through one corridor and have them come out through a different one.
Finally, keeping track of hospital employees can enhance everyone's safety. Location data systems can be designed to literally page the closest doctor when a patient is in distress, rather than one who may be on the other side of the building or in the canteen.
Location tracking can also help if there is an emergency. Bluetooth tags can help ensure that visitors, employees, and patients are accounted for in the event of an evacuation. Hospitals are generally evacuated only as a last resort, but when they are, it's not feasible to do a room-by-room inspection to make sure everyone is out or alternatively at a muster station. Emergency services can be told who is still in the building, where they are, and even whether they are mobility impaired, allowing rescue services to go right where they need to go with the right equipment.
Unfortunately, one risk of working in a hospital is being assaulted. The stresses faced by some patients or their loved ones can result in unfortunate confrontations. Bluetooth technology can give staff a one-touch method for calling security, without having to stop to give their location, if they need backup. Healthcare workers face a high risk of being attacked, especially in the emergency room. Having a panic button also tends to help staff confidence and, thus, staff productivity.
Patient flow management is a problem in many hospitals. Hand-offs between departments don't always go smoothly, the emergency room is overcrowded despite there being plenty of beds, or patients who are ready to be discharged have to sit around for hours waiting on the paperwork. Real-time data on patient movement can help hospitals identify where the bottlenecks are and design systems to prevent delayed discharge and patients sitting for hours in hallways. For example, door to clinician times can be tracked in the emergency room, giving metrics that allow a hospital to improve its procedures.
Apps can alert doctors or nurses to patients who have been waiting longer than normal. Some admissions can be expedited with automated check-in. They also make patient transfers easier. Physical charts do not have to be handed off, tags or wristbands don't need to be changed since they're associated with data kept in the cloud and directly linked to a patient's medical records. The system significantly reduces the risk of situations where a patient slips through the cracks and department X thinks department Y is taking care of them and vice versa.
When a patient is discharged, the system can automatically notify housekeeping so they can immediately clean the bed and/or room for reuse, reducing bed shortages significantly. Staff also have an instant map available of which beds are occupied and which are available, so there is no need to send somebody running through the hospital to find a bed (which, yes, happens a lot). The system will also send an alert if the hospital is near capacity so that patient transfers can be planned.
By using Bluetooth tags in employee badges, building security can be improved. Employees are automatically granted access rights to the parts of the building they need. Badges or wristbands can be easily updated if access rights are changed, without the need to change the physical hardware.
Tracking assets reduces theft, which improves patient safety by ensuring that the needed equipment is present for use.
Infectious disease control is a big issue; as anyone who has ever caught something nasty while visiting a relative in the hospital can attest.
Visitor tracking can keep visitors who don't need to be there out of patient rooms and can help visitors plan a route through the hospital that minimizes their contact with patients. Even medical staff can be directed in ways that minimize unnecessary patient contact, slowing the spread of hospital-acquired infections.
Asset tracking can flag equipment that needs to be sanitized and ensure it is not inadvertently reused, and track medical waste on its way out of the building, ensuring that nobody comes into contact with it. This also means that equipment can be found faster when needed, reducing patient wait times.
The system can keep staff abreast of the location of patients with highly-contagious diseases and remind them to take proper precautions before entering the room. Some systems are being developed that monitor whether workers are washing their hands before and after patient contact.
Recent events have illustrated the critical value of being able to have precise records of all patient interactions, updated in real time. The outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 virus demonstrates how location data tracking patients, physicians and other hospital workers can serve as a crucial record that allows infections to be traced and hopefully contained. Up-to-the-minute status reports along with easily accessible historical data can display all interactions with infected patients, accelerating the process of locating and testing anyone who may be at risk.
Barcode wristbands help, but Bluetooth beacons have the advantage of range; staff doesn’t have to actually touch a patient to identify them. Once the patient has been identified, medical records can be accessed immediately and accurately. Furthermore, an exact, accurate record of where a patient has been and which staff have been with them can be obtained. This gives more data for hospitals to use in improving services and tracking outcomes. The medical record can easily be cross-referenced to the attending physician, ensuring that any gaps in reporting can be checked on and corrected.
We already mentioned tracking down the nearest doctor in situations when every minute counts. A combination of smart hospital beds and employee location tracking can alert the right medical staff (by proximity and skill) and get them to the bedside of a distressed patient quickly, even if the patient is unable to call for assistance. The staff can also immediately locate equipment, such as the nearest defibrillator, even if they are new or in an unfamiliar part of the hospital. If a defibrillator was not returned to its place after use, the system can still track it down. Faster response times to patients can, of course, save lives. Also, there's the fact that much time that could be spent assisting patients is wasted tracking down a missing piece of equipment or even missing personnel.
Hospital employees work hard and can be prone to work-related injuries, especially back injuries from lifting or pushing patients. Employee monitoring and location data can keep track of how much hard physical labor an individual does. It can then encourage or force them to take a break as needed or switch to a less arduous task. Sometimes those with a reputation for being big and strong can end up doing more than their fair share of gurney pushing.
Real-time location systems are revolutionizing healthcare. They may not yet be universal, but the chances are they will be. The hospital of the future will streamline every interaction based on data, guiding staff, patients, and visitors to where they need to go. Patient safety and outcomes will thus be improved, and employees will be better protected from the unavoidable hazards of their job. By optimizing patient flow, helping protect workers from attack, and reducing everyone's exposure to infectious agents, real-time location data tracking will keep everyone in and around hospitals safer.