Sharp Chula Vista Uses RTLS to Locate Patients, Manage Beds

By Claire Swedberg

The San Diego hospital is using the technology to help employees find patients in real time, as well as alert housekeeping when a patient has been discharged, signaling that a bed is ready for cleaning.

California's Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, located approximately 15 miles south of San Diego, is employing a real-time location system (RTLS) and patient-management software supplied by TeleTracking Technologies to monitor patients' locations. Since the system was taken live in September 2015, management reports that it has enabled the hospital to increase bed throughput by issuing alerts to its housekeeping staff when patients leave, and to help personnel and visitors quickly locate patients in real time.

Sharp Chula Vista's parent organization, Sharp HealthCare, initially launched TeleTracking's patient-flow software in 2013 at all of its hospitals, and at some outpatient clinics. Subsequently, the company implemented an RTLS to locate some high-demand or high-value assets at most of its facilities. Sharp is using the Chula Vista hospital as its patient-tracking pilot project, before deploying the technology throughout its health-care facilities.

The TeleTracking software displays a map of the Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, on which it shows patients' locations.

Sharp Chula Vista has 243 patient beds, as well as 100 skilled nursing beds. Its emergency department serves 200 patients on a typical day, 20 percent of whom end up being admitted. The hospital is busy, and Sharp is thus in the process of building a new patient tower that is slated to open in 2019. Until then, says Deanna White, Sharp Chula Vista's director of acute care, the facility needs to be as efficient as possible, in order to ensure that new patients are quickly admitted—and, after patients are discharged, that their beds are cleaned and turned over for subsequent patients.

With TeleTracking software, the hospital already admits each patient and automatically assigns him a room, as well as health-care providers. For the addition of the equipment-tracking RTLS solution, TeleTracking provided CenTrak with tags that were attached to beds and other assets. A CenTrak tag has a sensor for receiving an IR signal transmitted by a battery-powered CenTrak beacon installed within the vicinity, enabling it to identify the tag's location. The tag then forwards its own unique ID number, as well as that of the beacon, via a 900 MHz signal to a Power-over-Ethernet (POE) collector that acts as a gateway, collecting the data and forwarding it to the hospital's server, explains John Cutshall, TeleTracking's RTLS project manager.

Deanna White, Sharp Chula Vista's acute care director

In 2013, says Janet Hanley, Sharp HealthCare's VP of technology, innovation and efficiency, her organization established an RTLS committee that reviews which assets should be tagged. "We're very careful about what we're tagging," she states. "We want to make sure we are tagging assets for the right reason." Typically, Hanley explains, high-value or low-volume items that can be difficult to locate quickly are tagged first. Sharp's Central Transportation Department has also tagged wheelchairs to enable the transporting staff to locate them easily.

Sharp Chula Vista is now providing each patient with a CenTrak wristband at the time of his admission. First, the individual's name is entered into the TeleTracking patient-flow software, and a room and health-care provider are then assigned to that individual. Staff members scan the wristband's bar code, thereby linking the tag's unique ID number with the patient's medical records. The bracelet itself contains only an ID, while the patient's name and records are stored in the software.

As the individual then moves around the hospital, his tag captures the IDs transmitted by any beacons that he passes. The tag forwards that data to the software, which determines that person's location. That can include, for instance, when he enters the radiology department, as well as the CT scan area within radiology, as long as a beacon is installed at that location. When he goes to his room, the system will capture that information as well.

Staff members can use this information when they need to locate a particular patient. For example, if a physician discovers that a patient is not in his assigned room when she arrives to provide treatment, she can use the software to ascertain where that patient went. That information can also be shared with a visitor or family member.

In the past, if a patient required closer monitoring due to being at risk if he wandered, a staff member might have been assigned to stay with him at all times. But with the RTLS in place, this is not always necessary since the system makes it possible to locate an individual easily.

TeleTracking's John Cutshall

When a patient is discharged, a staff member cuts off the tag and places it in a box containing a built-in beacon. The tag's and beacon's ID numbers are then forwarded to the TeleTracking software to indicate that the patient linked to that specific wristband has checked out, and that her room is, therefore, available for cleaning. The TeleTracking software automatically alerts the housekeeping staff via pager that the room is ready to be cleaned, as well as the kinds of patient treatment that were provided there—which could affect the types of cleaning tools required (such as a patient in isolation for a communicable disease).

Hanley says Sharp HealthCare intends to expand the solution to all of its facilities, based on the system's success at the Chula Vista location.

The results of the patient-tracking RTLS are still being evaluated, White adds, including how much it reduces the down time of patient beds that are awaiting cleaning. The technology not only prompts housekeeping to clean the room faster, it provides information that the hospital can use to learn what sorts of situations are likely to result in bed turnover delays after a patient is discharged, as well as how those delays can be reduced. The hospital's focus, White adds, is not just on filling beds as soon as they become available, but also on emptying those beds by ensuring that patients who are ready to go home are quickly processed and released.

In addition, White says, the data enables more modifications based on daily reports. "Things are a lot more transparent," she states, and hospital management can thus track how quickly beds are turned over, along with where problems might lie.

Once the new patient tower opens at Sharp Chula Vista, it, too, will use the patient- and asset-tracking RTLS.