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Carolinas HealthCare Launches Huge RTLS System

Carolinas HealthCare System is applying WiFi tags to more than 5,000 assets in what technology provider Ekahau calls one of the largest healthcare implementations of RTLS technology in the US. It is installing RTLS systems at multiple facilities to help centrally track assets as they are shared across 15 hospitals.
Oct 09, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

October 9, 2007—Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS), the third-largest public healthcare system in the US, has completed the first phase of an asset tracking program that is believed to be one of the largest healthcare real-time location system (RTLS) deployments in the US. Currently about 5,000 assets are being tracked over 1.4 million square feet at five facilities.

CHS plans to extend the WiFi-based RTLS system throughout its network, which includes 15 hospitals and medical centers in the Carolinas. Additional facilities totaling about 3 million square feet are scheduled to go live by the end of the quarter.

"As a healthcare organization, we're required to upgrade or perform preventive maintenance regularly on medical equipment," Clay Fisher, director of information service at Carolinas HealthSystem, told RFID Update. "Imagine trying to find one specific IV pump when you have thousands of them across multiple facilities. We have reduced our 'time-to-find' for individual pieces of equipment from hours to less than ten minutes."

Besides the tag volume, the project is notable because it involves multiple facilities, no new wireless LAN infrastructure was required to support RTLS, and application software was installed on a central server rather than at each individual facility.

CHS selected active, WiFi-based RTLS tags from Ekahau for the project. The tags are being applied to a variety of high-value medical assets. Fisher said the tags provide asset location accuracy to within ten feet, which will save the healthcare system a tremendous amount of time in locating assets and recording their status.

"We did not have to add any new access points," said Fisher. "We just had to reconfigure the antennas on a couple. But when you're talking about 300 access points, that isn't bad. As a healthcare entity, we're very heavily invested in wireless. We wanted to leverage those investments as much as possible with the RTLS system."

Carolinas HealthSystem recently announced it won several honors for its IT prowess.

"Our network was configured for voice over IP [VoIP]. We found that this significantly improved our results. For those organizations not configured for wireless voice, they may have to consider adding access points to obtain the full value of an RTLS system," Fisher said.

If legacy wireless LANs don't provide sufficient coverage or density to support RTLS, additional APs are added to help the system triangulate the tag position or analyze its signal strength to calculate the location. Tuomo Rutanen of Ekahau told RFID Update that it is not unusual for healthcare organizations to implement RTLS systems on their legacy wireless LANs without adding more coverage.

"Over the last two to three years WiFi has spread really wide and deep through the hospital market. Now, nine out of ten that we talk to have WiFi in place," he said. "Hospitals are already doing data on their wireless networks, and maybe they're doing voice. Next they're looking to RTLS. When the network is already in place, RTLS becomes just another application."

Earlier this year, a hospital in Belgium announced it integrated RTLS with its wireless VoIP system to track patients and report their vital signs to nurses (see Hospital Using RTLS to Monitor Patients' Conditions).

Rutanen cites ease of implementation as a leading reason RTLS adoption in healthcare is growing. "Location systems are nothing new to hospitals. Proprietary location networks have been available for at least ten years," said Rutanen. "Now, location systems have been standardized with WiFi RTLS and there's healthy competition out there. Those factors together are driving adoption."

Rutanen said healthcare demand for RTLS systems is two to three times higher now than it was a year ago. His outlook is consistent with analysts and market researchers, who consistently affirm the strength of the market (see Analyst: Strong Growth Ahead for WiFi-based RTLS, Analyst on the Growing Market for WiFi-based RTLS, and WiFi Tag Market to Grow 100% Per Year Through 2010).

Read the announcement from Ekahau
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