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RTLS Providers Cite Strong Demand From Hospitals

Vendors of real-time location systems say they experienced growth in the first quarter of 2009, though a survey suggests a lack of knowledge is hampering uptake.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 17, 2009In January of this year, a market report published by health-care technology research firm KLAS Enterprises claimed a lack of knowledge and education regarding real-time locating systems (RTLS) in the health-care industry has stalled the applications of RFID and other wireless tracking systems that can help end users manage assets, control temperatures and oversee employees and patients. Some vendors mentioned in the report, however, have recently announced significant growth in the health-care market, with hospitals, in some cases, outpacing other industries in RTLS installations. Case in point: Last week, Wi-Fi RFID technology provider AeroScout announced 150 percent health-care revenue growth in the first quarter of 2009, against the same quarter of the previous year.

With familiarity being cited as one of the more critical deciding factors for end users, the KLAS study noted, Wi-Fi has taken the bulk of RTLS deployment as a technology that is easy to install since, in many cases, the backbone is already in place. A Wi-Fi system may be considerably less intimidating to health-care providers than a hybrid system using, for instance, active 433 MHz RFID tags in one location, and a different type of technology (such as ZigBee) elsewhere.

Although systems that use Wi-Fi tags and readers account for more than half of the RTLS deployments in health care, that does not make them the best solution in every case, according to Steven Van Wagenen, KLAS' marketing and research director. Adding asset tracking or temperature tracking to an existing Wi-Fi system, for example, introduces an additional data source to an organization's computer network, and extra traffic can negatively affect network performance. In addition, he says, some hospitals have multiple needs—for instance, they may require extreme locating precision in one area, with completely different needs in another part of the facility. Ultrasound technology is more precise, Van Wagenen says, while a ZigBee mesh network can also be very precise. "Over half of end users," he adds, "are considering Wi-Fi because there is more information out there about it."

While cost is one factor that continues to inhibit deployments, Van Wagenen says, there is also a lack of understanding the options. When survey participants were asked for the names of vendors, 28 names were provided. "We weren't expecting to have so many vendors talked about," he states. But although there was considerable vendor name recognition, there was less understanding of what those companies offered. "There's a lot of room for growth in the market," he says, "and a lot of room for education."

To begin with, Van Wagenen explains, vendors need to define the return on investment (ROI) their customers stand to gain by deploying RFID. Some companies, with the economic recession in mind, have offered to subsidize the cost of their clients' installations, then receive a later payment from each end-user based on savings. "It's a way to demonstrate that they [vendors] are confident about the ROI," Van Wagenen says. In addition, vendors are making a greater effort to educate end users regarding their own systems, and health-care providers have been seeking out additional education on the technology as well.

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