RTLS to Aid Geisinger’s Hospitals in Tracking Assets

By Claire Swedberg

The Pennsylvania organization's two largest facilities are installing TeleTracking Technologies software and CenTrak hardware to help staff more easily locate equipment, as well as reduce logistics and inventory costs.

Geisinger Health System is adopting a real-time locating system (RTLS) to help track medical equipment at its two largest facilities. The Pennsylvania-based integrated health services organization intends to install an RTLS solution that can be managed via the same software that it already uses to track patient beds. The RTLS and bed-tracking solutions are being provided by TeleTracking Technologies.

The RTLS is being installed at the Geisinger Medical Center (GMC), an 800,000-square-foot facility with 45 clinic areas, located in Danville. By early next year, the same technology is expected to be taken live at the Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center (GWV), a 375,000-square-foot facility in Wilkes-Barre housing 19 clinical areas.

To improve the efficiency of its operations, Geisinger had already been utilizing multiple TeleTracking software applications that do not employ radio frequency identification. For example, both GMC and GWV have installed TeleTracking's Bed Management Suite, which includes TeleTracking's BedTracking and PreAdmitTracking solutions, to manage the movements of patients throughout the sites. In 2011, both facilities also went live with TransportTracking, which manages the movements of patients and equipment from dispatch request through final destination, based on data inputted by employees.

Throughout that span of time, says Kevin Capatch, Geisinger's director of supply chain technology and process engineering, the health services organization had been seeking an RTLS solution for the purpose of tracking assets. The objective, he says, was to reduce the amount of time that staff members spent searching for items, as well as ensure that excess inventory is not ordered to replace assets thought missing that were, in fact, onsite.

While Geisinger was still considering a variety of vendors during its search for an appropriate solution, Capatch says, an event occurred two years ago that demonstrated how important RTLS technology was to the hospital. A recall of IV pumps, of which Geisinger had hundreds, required that every pump within its facilities be located and replaced—a very laborious process, he notes. "We had to take all of them out of the system," he states, adding, "to have an event of this magnitude going on, without RTLS, is very time-consuming. We had a flurry of activity around it." If the IV pumps had been RFID-tagged, he says, the process would have been considerably easier, since personnel could simply have searched for all of the pumps in the software and then be directed to each.

"This challenge presented us with an opportunity," Capatch says, so the selection committee used the event to accelerate the support of its project "to ensure the efforts needed to manage this task—when you don't know how much equipment you have, or, for that matter, even where it is located—never had to happen again."

RTLS technology was continuing to evolve, Capatch explains, so that each time the committee thought about deciding on a particular solution, another one offering better functionality would be announced, thereby delaying the selection process.

According to Capatch, the selection committee was not interested in TeleTracking's original RTLS solution. In 2009, TeleTracking had acquired RadarFind, a company that marketed an RTLS employing active 902 to 928 MHz ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags (see RFID News Roundup: TeleTracking Technologies Acquires RTLS Provider RadarFind), but the Geisinger committee determined that using RFID alone would not provide the required room- and bay-level accuracy. TeleTracking persisted, assuring committee members that its next-generation infrared (IR) RTLS product would be worth the look, says Jon Poshywak, TeleTracking Technologies' managing director of RTLS workflow services.

TeleTracking came back to the team with the IR and RFID hybrid RTLS solution that it had begun marketing, through a partnership with CenTrak (see RFID News Roundup: TeleTracking Announces Availability of Its Next-Gen RTLS). The solution consists of CenTrak's IR-RFID battery tags attached to assets and worn by patients in the form of wristbands. The tags are used in conjunction with CenTrak's Gen 2 IR beacons and RFID collectors (readers). First, a beacon floods the room with infrared waves. If a tag enters that area, it receives the beacon's IR transmission and transmits its own unique identifier to the collectors, along with the beacon's identifier, via active 900 MHz RFID. TeleTracking's software receives that data, determines the tag's location and provides the information to the asset- or patient-management software.

The Geisinger team liked the hybrid solution, Capatch says, and the fact that the technology would not be using the Wi-Fi system to transmit data. The system now being installed at GMC and GWV will include TeleTracking's asset-management and mapping software, interfacing with Geisinger's existing bed-management software.

Within the GMC and GWV facilities, TeleTracking will attach tags to assets, including IV pumps, and install RFID collectors, spaced approximately every 80 to 90 feet, as well as IR beacons. The installation is expected to be completed in late 2012.

Initially, the two hospitals will use the system simply to locate assets. In the future, however, Geisinger plans to take advantage of the TeleTracking system's ability to provide business reporting, including sending alerts in the event that too many items are accumulating at a specific location. The technology could also be used during such scenarios as equipment recalls.

"The location information is what we are after," Capatch states. "It is the workflow from end-of-use to ready-to-use we can't manage today." The TeleTracking systems, when fully integrated, will notify logisticians that a particular pump is ready to be cleaned once it is placed within the designated "dirty location," and the logisticians will then clean the pumps and distribute them to the areas with the lowest clean par levels.

The use of RFID technology is not new to Geisinger Health System. Since 2010, its pharmacy has been employing passive UHF RFID tags in conjunction with TUG robots provided by Aethon (see Hospital Robot Tracks Controlled Substances, High-Value Meds). Aethon provides the hospital with the robots that deliver and retrieve medications, equipment and supplies throughout Geisinger's corridors. An RFID interrogator and antenna built into the robot captures the ID number of every tagged pharmaceutical placed within its drawers, thus providing Geisinger's hospital-based pharmacies with visibility into those drugs' location and status.