Jul 25, 2018With an aim to extend CenTrak Group's portfolio of technology tools for its real-time location system (RTLS) solutions, select assets of another RTLS company, Awarepoint, have been transferred to CenTrak's subsidiary, Clinical Patents LLC (CPLLC).
Through this transfer of Awarepoint's assets to CPLLC, CenTrak reports, the firm has expanded its reach to include the San Diego company's customer base, and has broadened its own capacity for Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions, as well as gaining Awarepoint talent. Awarepoint's products and services will continue to be sold through CPLLC. CenTrak, reportedly the largest RTLS provider in North America, has about 1,000 hospital customers currently using its technology, while Awarepoint was approximately one-tenth the size.
Since 2002, Awarepoint has been providing an RTLS solution for the health-care market, designed to track the locations of assets and individuals, as well as provide temperature monitoring. Its customers include Kaiser Permanente, which installed the system for asset tracking across all of its U.S. hospitals. The company's software includes analytical tools to create operational intelligence from RTLS data. CenTrak says it will now introduce its ecosystem, which includes software partners and solution providers, to Awarepoint's customers, allowing them to expand their RTLS use.
Awarepoint has traditionally provided 2.4 GHz RTLS tags that use the ZigBee protocol, but has more recently moved into BLE technology. CenTrak says it will continue offering these technologies to Awarepoint's customers, while ZigBee technology may be phased out in the long run since other technologies can accomplish the RTLS data capture more effectively. Awarepoint has also developed antennas that can detect the direction of a BLE signal when received by a beacon, thereby enabling a system to calculate the direction in which a person or asset is moving.
However, BLE technology alone is not sufficient for most hospitals' numerous RTLS needs, says Ari Naim, CenTrak's president. CenTrak provides a suite of tools that include second-generation infrared (Gen2IR), Wi-Fi, active UHF RFID, passive LF RFID and advanced ultrasound (IRUS). Recently, it added BLE technology to its portfolio (see CenTrak Builds BLE Beacon Functionality Into RTLS Devices).
In fact, Naim says, CenTrak offers a broader portfolio of RTLS technologies than any of its competitors. That is the best way to address the needs of the health-care industry, he explains, since the requirements vary according to multiple use cases at each hospital. A facility may require asset tracking, patient tracking, temperature management of coolers and way-finding for visitors. As hospitals have been consolidating, they have been seeking ways to integrate numerous applications onto a single platform across a large enterprise.
With access to Awarepoint's assets, Naim says, CenTrak will be able to leverage more technology options, including BLE antenna technology that provides location-based data via beacons. For example, BLE beacons could be installed in doorways, and could then detect on which side of the beacon a tag, mobile phone or other BLE-enabled device was located, as well as the direction in which it was moving. In that way, a system could use BLE technology to identify the direction of people moving through or past doorways.
Awarepoint technology also offers a solution based on tracking mobile devices without a tag, such as a smartphone or tablet, via BLE. As a growing number of health-care professionals carry such devices in hospital settings, the technology provides another option for tracking hospital employees and other individuals.
The key point that has led to Centrak's growth, Naim says, is the need for multiple wireless technologies. ZigBee and BLE—the two technologies offered by Awarepoint—by themselves cannot solve many of the problems for which an RTLS solution may be needed at a hospital. For instance, he says, neither can give hospitals room-level accuracy of a tag's location—and that means tracking assets or individuals cannot be specified per room. Health care, however, is governed by regulations that, in some cases, may require very specific information regarding where particular assets are located.
For instance, RTLS solutions are being used to identify when a specific piece of equipment is used on a given patient, and to confirm that it has been cleaned and sanitized prior to reuse. The systems, with room-level accuracy, can also help to prevent the spread of infectious diseases if a hospital knows who has been in contact with those exposed.
"I think BLE is one instrument amongst many" to solve a hospital's challenges, Naim says. Consolidations of hospitals, and the need to lower costs by making work more efficient, means facilities are seeking more RTLS-based data, but are also seeking to integrate it into a single solution. "Hospitals are looking for big enterprise-level solutions, and they are using RTLS to address not a short list of problems."
Awarepoint has not only transferred a list of customers to CenTrak, enabling the company to expand its own customer base, Naim reports, but has also provided access to engineers and other RTLS specialists that CPLLC now employs. While the existing Awarepoint office is being closed, CenTrak is opening a new San Diego-based office in which engineering work will continue to take place. "They have a great amount of talent," he states. "We are thrilled to add their expertise."
In the coming years, Naim predicts continued growth in RTLS, especially in patient flow. Wristbands equipped with active RFID tags, for instance, are becoming more cost-effective through single-use and low-cost reusable tag options, enabling hospitals to begin tracking the movements of patients to ensure they are efficiently moving through the various stages of care.