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Beacons, App Help Patients, Employees Navigate Huge Clinic

The National Institutes of Health Clinical Center has launched an app that leverages data from beacons to guide patients and personnel around a 3-million-square-foot building.
By Claire Swedberg

The technology enables a user to view a blue dot indicating his position, based on the phone's BLE functionality, with an accuracy of approximately 2 to 3 meters (6.6 to 9.8 feet). The data refreshes every second.

Workers are using the system as well. For instance, the app's housekeeping function enables employees to report cleaning or maintenance statuses, such as a piece of furniture requiring repair, an equipment item's maintenance requirements, or a room being ready for cleaning. "The mechanism we created allows anyone to report an issue," Cole explains. "We can capture the location of the area needing attention and attach a picture with their submission all through their smartphone."

NIHCC has created plain-language synonyms to make it easier for patients to find what they seek, Cole adds. For instance, if someone searched within the TakeMeThere app for the term "leukemia," he or she would find results for both the hematology and oncology clinics. A person searching for "coffee" would find results for all cafeterias and snack shops. "We also configured location-based alerts so that patients know when they enter a staff-only area," he notes. Anyone who did so would hear an audible alert on their phone.

The app's functionality is now being expanded on the clinic's campus beyond Building 10. For instance, Cole says, "we've identified hundreds of points of interest both on and off the NIH campus, such as ATMs, bike racks, local post offices and grocery stores." These areas were added based on patient input.

The clinic is considering tailoring the app to enable a user to designate whether he is a patient, visitor or staff member seeking directions. With that functionality, the app could then present content relevant to that person's needs. If the app does what the clinic hopes it will do, the amount of time that patients take reaching their destination will be reduced, patients will arrive at their visits on time and patient satisfaction will increase.

Connexient uses beacon hardware supplied by a variety of providers, Halstead says, such as Pole Star.

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