Improving Clinical Outcomes through Location Services

14 May 2021

Hospitals have always struggled with the balancing act of providing the best care for patients and dealing with limited resources. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, hospitals saw a huge shift in that balancing act. Suddenly, they were overwhelmed with highly contagious patients carrying an illness that is deadly to the most vulnerable members of our population. Read on and find out how location services can help improve health outcomes. Especially when infectious diseases spread.

Efficient and accurate patient flow control has become more important than ever, putting an extra strain on staff in the process. Beyond mere patient flow, contact tracing was necessary to minimize the likelihood of someone spreading an illness deadly enough to send most of the world into lockdown. 

Real-time location services are one way that hospital management can reduce the amount of work on staff. They also improve patient flow and improve health outcomes when contact tracing becomes vital. Using a special form of Bluetooth technology, called Bluetooth Low Energy, real-time location services can provide you with location information and metadata for anything they are attached to. There are countless uses for this technology in hospitals that will help free up staff and improve health outcomes. Let's discuss some of the ways real-time location services are empowering hospitals.

People Tracking

For patient flow, attaching a tracker to a patient wristband will give those in charge of a given patient's care real-time information about the patient's location and even health status.

When attached to staff badges, this becomes a major benefit in the fight against infectious diseases such as COVID-19. With the ability to track interactions between people, such tracking services give healthcare organizations immediate contact tracing. This allows them to see exposure risks in real-time. It's now possible to route patients and staff who need to move throughout the hospital in ways that will minimize their exposure to contagious patients.

Watch on-demand webinar "Connected Hospital Series: Patient Workflows  Streamlined with IoT"

Understanding Its Benefits

The information stored on the devices is anonymous; an ID number tracks the patients. So there's no concern about HIPPA violations should someone intercept the Bluetooth signals. Only authorized personnel will be able to access that software with data about the patients and their conditions.

Of course, the benefits of real-time people tracking go far beyond COVID-19. Real-time, centralized information about every patient in the hospital makes it easier for staff to communicate about patient status. At a glance, providers will be able to see all of the patients in the hospital or in a given section. They will know which patients are waiting for care, how long they've been waiting, and what their condition is. Using this information, hospital staff can reduce wait times, both in hospital rooms and in waiting rooms.

During a health crisis like COVID-19, it can be a huge benefit to patients' emotional well-being. Every second spent waiting in a room full of people with a highly contagious virus on the loose is stressful. It also increases the chance of exposure to contagion and negatively impacts health outcomes. By reducing wait times, location services also help to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

It can be difficult for hospital staff to keep a watchful eye over every patient at all times. Location-aware patient wristbands can alert staff when a patient goes outside of a marked area, making it easier to care for patients who need extra attention.

Benefits on Waiting Rooms

Speaking of waiting rooms, real-time location services also lead to a promising technological innovation that could eliminate them entirely in many circumstances. Self-rooming is an increasingly popular way of dealing with the traditional need to manually keep track of patients so that healthcare providers know which room they are in. Location tracking pinpoints each patient in a room. This allows patients with tracked wristbands to find an empty room themselves. It can even open up the area traditionally used as a waiting area for more rooms and more patient capacity. Furthermore, people isolated in rooms instead of gathered in waiting areas are less likely to spread contagions during a pandemic.

Even in hospital situations where self-rooming isn't practical, the ability to track in real-time which rooms are in use can increase the utilization of the hospital's available space. Miscommunications and improper scheduling can reduce how efficiently a hospital's space is used. This problem only becomes worse as patients come and go quickly, as does the case of an infectious disease outbreak. 

When hospital staff wears a location-tracked badge, it provides non-patient-related benefits as well. You'll be able to quickly see which providers have had contact or are currently attending to a specific patient. Members of staff will also be easier to track when they're needed. And the personnel closest to an emergency medical situation can be informed for more rapid responses to life-threatening circumstances. The type of highly charged situations that aren't uncommon in hospitals get out of hand. Security will be able to immediately locate the member of staff calling for help. Because location-aware badges know when someone enters the building, they can even be used to automate time-keeping for hourly employees.

Tracking Assets

So far, we've only talked about the benefits of tracking people. Hospitals and other health services facilities can find additional benefits by putting tracking tags on assets as well. Beds, stretchers, wheelchairs, and other necessary items get moved around a lot when a hospital is hit with the workload of an infectious disease outbreak. So tracking down an available asset can often be a hassle. Location tags make this process much easier because they entirely remove the guesswork about where equipment is located. This improves patient flow, reduces the workload on staff, and makes managing inventory much easier. 

Using Metadata

The same metadata that lets staff know the status of a patient can be used for medical devices as well. Whether or not the equipment used to transport patients is currently in use is critical for clinicians to understand the PAR level. It will allow staff to not only instantly find equipment, but to find one that's free for use.

Equipment that must be sterilized before reuse can pose a serious health threat to patients if it hasn't undergone the complete sterilization process. Metadata in trackers can help to indicate whether a piece of equipment is ready for use. So there's no chance of accidentally spreading infectious disease to other patients through them.

Many substances in use by healthcare facilities, such as COVID-19 vaccines, need to be kept at a certain temperature in order to remain viable. Special BLE tags have sensors in them that can report on external factors such as temperature. When placed inside of a freezer, these devices become potentially life-saving monitors. They will alert staff if the temperature climbs above (or falls below) a certain point. Not only are they tracking the equipment in use, but they are helping to extend its usefulness and further improve health outcomes.

How Real-Time Location Services Work

All of the metadata that the tags are using can be brought into the software and utilized in whatever way makes sense for the application. Notifications can be sent based on the data returned, calculations can be performed on the individual data, or on the data in aggregate. The BLE beacons and tags essentially become a powerful data collection machine. Data on the devices can be updated via the software, sensors, or even with buttons on the device itself. Some trackers even have LED lights that can indicate status changes. Providing visual alerts for staff that action needs to be taken. 

Conclusion

As hospital technology evolves, its incumbent upon facility managers to update as quickly as possible so that the health outcomes of their patients are always as prioritized.

While there is an outlay for switching to location tracking, it's one of the few things a hospital can purchase that will help save money and pay for itself. By helping to keep infected patients isolated, improving flow to minimize exposure to other people, and helping staff find the tools they need quicker, location services can also make a significant improvement in health outcomes when infectious diseases like COVID-19 strike. 

Contact us today to schedule a demo call of our solutions!

Aneta Ciurkot

Director, Product Marketing

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    [Updated for 2020]
    [Updated for 2020]