Denver Health Adopting a Hospital-Wide RTLS System

By Beth Bacheldor

Based on the success of a pilot project, the organization plans to apply Wi-Fi-based RFID tags to 2,700 pieces of equipment and study new ways to use its real-time locating system to improve processes and its bottom line.

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For the past 14 months, Denver Health has been using an RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) to track vital medical equipment at its Women’s and Children’s Pavilion, a facility that the 500-bed teaching hospital opened in August 2006. Now, the organization is expanding the RTLS to cover the entire hospital—an area encompassing 1.5 million square feet.

The hospital is employing InnerWireless‘ Wi-Fi-based RTLS technology, which the company acquired when it merged with PanGo Networks in March. Now known as Vision, the RTLS solution is a Wi-Fi-based system that incorporates VisionOS Platform middleware, along with Vision V3 2.4 GHz active RFID tags that comply with the 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi standards. The middleware aggregates the location data and unique ID numbers culled from the RFID tags, as well as the hospital’s Wi-Fi access points, and passes that information onto the asset-tracking software, which the hospital can then access to obtain real-time asset visibility, alerts and reports.

Denver Health originally opted to use a Wi-Fi-based RTLS largely because it wanted to leverage an existing Cisco Unified Wireless Network with 300 access points (see RFID Sees Gains in Health Care). The system’s track record, however, is the impetus behind the expansion, according to Jeff Pelot, Denver Health’s chief technology officer. “Considering the positive results we were experiencing at the Women and Children’s Pavilion,” Pelot says, “we decided to expand Vision throughout the hospital.”

At present, the hospital is in the midst of increasing its supply of medical devices—such as infusion pumps, wheelchairs and wound vacuums—from just several hundred pieces of equipment to 2,700. Pelot says the medical facility is still identifying the types of equipment it will track.

Knowing the location of specific equipment, in real time, has enabled Denver Health to improve its workflow. “Clinicians and staff aren’t spending as much time searching for misplaced items or looking for a piece of equipment that needs maintenance,” Pelot states. “They can focus on attending to a patient’s needs, and we also can monitor maintenance and repairs, ensuring equipment continues to perform safely.”

To keep tabs on maintenance schedules, Pelot and his team integrated Four Rivers Software Systems‘ maintenance management software with the VisionOS Platform, enabling automated alerts for maintenance schedules. “We also use the data that the Vision OS software provides to streamline work process and control purchasing,” Pelot says.

Using reporting tools within the VisionOS Platform, Denver Health can analyze operations and make any necessary changes to its processes and equipment inventory. For example, after investigating data culled from tracking wheelchairs, the hospital discovered that many unused wheelchairs were spread throughout various departments. By knowing the chairs’ locations at any given time, the hospital has been able to cut its wheelchair inventory.

In another example, the hospital has been able to reduce its inventory of wound vacuums, used to drain fluids from patients’ wounds. “These devices can’t be purchased and are leased by the day,” Pelot explains. When a patient is admitted to the hospital and treated with a wound vacuum, the device is left in the room where that person was first treated. A few days later, the patient might be scheduled for surgery, at which time a wound vacuum would again be needed. Rather than retrieving the device from the first treatment room, the OR surgeon might lease another wound vacuum for the same patient.

“But only one can be billed [to the patient],” Pelot says. “With Vision, we’ve reduced double-leasing, which helps prevent unbillable costs from aggregating.” The hospital, he explains, can use the software to automatically search for and locate the original wound vacuum leased for a particular patient, rather than having to lease two of the devices for the same person.

Ultimately, Denver Health expects the expanded RTLS to improve patient care. “Clinicians are able to deliver more timely care and spend more time with the patient because they don’t spend extra time looking for the equipment they need to do their job,” says Pelot. “Secondly, alerts and notifications tied into the VisionOS software help the biomedical department manage equipment maintenance and repair. This ensures medical equipment is operating safely and correctly. Overall, Vision contributes to a more productive work environment, which impacts the quality of care Denver Health delivers, ultimately leading to a more satisfactory experience for patients.”

Pelot says he is meeting with other departments within the hospital, such as nursing and engineering, to determine if there are other ways to leverage the RTLS to further improve processes, workflow, the bottom line and patient experience.