An RTLS Self-Exam

By Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck

Hospitals that ask the right questions can make a smart decision when choosing a real-time location system.


In our last column, To RTLS or Not to RTLS, we explained why hospitals should not wait to deploy an RFID-based real-time location system. Basically, the benefits outweigh the risks. We also acknowledged that choosing an RTLS is a complex process. But hospital managers that take a project-management approach—identify the business requirements, IT requirements and total cost of ownership—will be able to make a smart decision.

First, form a crossfunctional team of representatives from all departments that will be affected by the RTLS project. Make a list of the processes you want to improve. When you begin to consider the inefficiencies in your hospital, you may find that it’s a long list. It might include, for example, asset tracking, hygiene compliance, patient management, and security and access control. Prioritize the use cases to determine which one to address first.

Next, define the technology performance requirements and the functionalities of the applications platform. Do you need coverage hospital-wide or only in specific zones or subzones? What’s the precision and accuracy with which you need to identify a specific object or person? Do you need to know, for example, that a specific medical device is in particular alarm zone or patient room?

How responsive a system do you need? RTLS responsiveness is expressed as latency—the time lag in reporting the movement of an object or person. A short latency is essential when creating alarm zones, so staff can be alerted immediately to the presence or absence of assets or patients.

What are your tag requirements? Consider form factor when choosing a tag for tracking mobile assets or people. Do you need a tag that can monitor temperature or withstand sterilization procedures? Do you need a tag that can send and receive messages to the medical staff? Some tags can communicate the status of the equipment to which they are affixed, such as whether an IV pump is available or requires maintenance.

The answers to these questions will help you develop a call for tender for RTLS solutions that best meet your needs. To evaluate the proposals you receive, you’ll have to ask another set of questions.

What are the potential installation issues? How would the system be integrated with your hospital’s information systems? What analytics and reporting tools does the RTLS feature? Can the system address the other use cases you’ve identified?

What would the total cost of ownership be? This can vary greatly between active and passive RTLS solutions.

What is the system’s overall ease of use? The answer to this question is paramount. What matters is not whether the system works, but whether it will work in your hospital with your staff.

Ygal Bendavid and Harold Boeck are professors in the school of management at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and members of RFID Academia‘s research board.