RFIDJournal.com’s Best of 2023: Siemens Healthineers Offers Real-Time Location via IoT and AI

The healthcare technology company is leveraging Cognosos's BLE and radio cloud-based sensors to provide room-level data about a hospital's asset locations, and thus their status.
Published: December 26, 2023

Editor’s note: As we get toward the end of 2023, RFIDJournal.com is looking back at some of the top stories that we published in the last year.

Global medical device and solutions provider Siemens Healthineers has teamed up with Cognosos, an asset-tracking technology company, to offer a real-time location system (RTLS) for tracking mobile assets at healthcare facilities. With the technology, Siemens Healthineers can provide a full RTLS solution for businesses that use Siemens products to track their location and status. Alternatively, the company can utilize the RTLS data as part of its own biomedical services for hospitals which pay for that service.

The solution leverages a combination of the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity already present within a hospital environment, boosted by Cognosos’s Bluetooth beacons, and a gateway to capture and forward data regarding BLE-tagged assets and their movements.

In that way, the technology manages the room-level location and status of the mobile assets that help a hospital treat patients, ranging from wheelchairs to imaging equipment. The solution is designed to be low-cost and easy to deploy, with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model so Siemens or its customers need not pay a large up-front cost.

Siemens Healthineers Offers Real-Time Location via IoT and AI

Siemens Healthineers provides a variety of technology to healthcare facilities, and the company has already been offering RTLS data to capture information about equipment, patient and personnel status within a health system.

“Siemens Healthineers has a keen focus on operational transformation for our customers,” says Ben Sperling, Siemens Healthineers North America’s VP of enterprise intelligence solutions. The company, he adds, offers three key service solutions leveraging RTLS data.

One such solution, known as Service Provider, employs RTLS 2.0 technologies. The second option is the RTLS Best Practices Program, which provides asset and rental management, mobile medical equipment tracking, and patient and staff workflow.

The third offering is known as Fully Managed Services, which includes the monitoring and maintaining of an RTLS network and the associated workflow alerts, out of Siemens Healthineers’ Digital Services Center. This real-time data has allowed the company to create digital twins with which users can view where people or equipment are located, as well as where bottlenecks occur, and simulate solutions to resolve those problems.

Overcoming the Challenges of Traditional RTLS

Siemens recently sought a new RTLS solution that would be highly effective in identifying tags within a room without the need for complex infrastructure.

“Data accuracy is extremely important,” Sperling states. “Thus, the input of RTLS data has to be correct for Siemens Healthineers to process and provide accurate results and feedback to our customers.”

Throughout the years, he says, the company found that RTLS deployments offered challenges related to the up-front costs of installation, time and resources, as well as a lack of domain expertise to manage and monitor such systems. “These challenges have made it difficult to achieve a hard-dollar return on investments.”

Ben Sperling

Ben Sperling

Therefore, Siemens Healthineers hired two RTLS veterans with more than 30 years of specific RTLS programs to lead its practice, and it also began researching solutions. The company chose to work with Cognosos, an Internet of Things (IoT) technology firm based in Atlanta, Ga. Cognosos’s artificial intelligence (AI)-based solution is designed to be easily deployed, Sperling says, with limited infrastructure requirements and an SaaS business model.

“We classify Cognosos as part of the next generation of RTLS technologies, or RTLS 2.0,” he states.

The solution solves three historical shortcomings in RTLS, Sperling claims, the first of which is ease of deployment. The system needed to be quick and easy to deploy, he says. Siemens’ second requirement was to find a system that would be highly accurate, providing location-based data with repeatable results. Thirdly, the company wanted a monthly fee-based business model based on the number of items or individuals tracked per month. In that way, the company could avoid a large capital expense up front.

With Cognosos for RTLS 2.0, Sperling says, “The price of this solution is typically half to one-third of RTLS 1.0 technologies. It enables the customer to get to their expected ROI in months, not years.”

Siemens leverages the RTLS services and programs in its Technology Optimization Partnerships, he adds. This strategic approach to multi-vendor service leverages connected solutions like RTLS to increase equipment utilization, make data-driven decisions and improve financial performance.

How the Technology Works

Each asset has a battery-powered BLE tag attached to it, which contains a unique identifier linked to the asset’s description and identity in the cloud-based software. The system captures beacon transmissions from area BLE devices, as well as from those installed by Siemens to boost that BLE service. The BLE sensors do not need to be in the patient rooms. In fact, they are typically installed in hallways. Installers can simply clip those battery-powered sensors (which are about the size of a pack of cards) onto a ceiling tile frame.

Because the beacons are easy to install, says Braxton Jarratt, Cognosos’s CEO, hospitals can achieve a rapid deployment without requiring installers to push up ceiling tiles, run cables or enter patient rooms. With a new deployment, Siemens typically assesses the facility and mounts the beacons as needed for a specific customer. There is also a radio cloud gateway that receives 900 MHz transmissions from the tags every time they capture the BLE transmissions.

Braxton Jarratt

Braxton Jarratt

While most Bluetooth systems employ BLE transmissions for proximity sensing and forward the data back upstream via Bluetooth, the Cognosos tags listen to Bluetooth signals, then use the radio cloud system for transmission, thereby isolating the BLE signals for location data alone.

“As a result,” Jarratt states, “the system gains a higher reliability. We control that network, so even if we’re listening to third-party beacons, you don’t have to rely on the third-party networks to deliver the data back.”

The software uses triangulation to understand location, as well as AI and machine learning (ML) to obtain room-level accuracy. Over time and usage, the AI and ML functions apply intelligence to further detect and understand location patterns, and thereby use those patterns to better indicate where assets are located.

“When we began building the solution using Bluetooth and our own radio cloud technology, we realized that we had to do better than [other RTLS system providers] to provide the full value for somebody like Siemens and their customers,” Jarratt states. “They need room-level accuracy inside of a hospital in order to do really interesting things,” That includes calculating how many units of a specific type of equipment are clean and available, how many are in use within patient rooms, and how many are in a clean room, waiting to be cleaned.

Providing Analytics to Improve Operations

In the long term, Jarratt says, the collected data helps Siemens or its customer to review the peaks and troughs of usage, “correlating usage with things that might be happening outside of the hospital—for instance, a pandemic or surges of flu.” That kind of analytics would not be possible without room-level location accuracy, he adds. “The big problem is that legacy providers can do room-level [location identification], but it requires a sensor in every single room.”

Siemens or Cognosos installers typically analyze the Bluetooth signals that can be read already, then calculate the best position for booster beacons, typically located around 60 feet apart in hallways.

The system often relies on a single gateway covering multiple floors and an entire wing of a hospital, Jarratt says, adding, “We estimate around 100,000 square feet can be covered with a single one-foot-square receiver.”

For healthcare companies, the RTLS solution is aimed at reducing labor costs previously spent by employees searching for assets, as well as decreasing preventative maintenance costs by tracking each asset’s servicing and history, and reducing the amount of equipment needed. That last benefit is based on achieving greater visibility into where equipment is located and how it is being used, so that companies can ensure the tools they need can be easily located, and that redundant assets are not required.

Siemens Healthineers is now working with customers to deploy the new RTLS solution. While the primary use case for customers involves asset management, the company says it will continue to focus on reducing operational bottlenecks by leveraging real-time and historical information about the flow of personnel and patients throughout the health system.

Key Takeaways:

  • The solution from Siemens Healthineers and Cognosos allows for automated visibility into the location and conditions of equipment.
  • The technology includes artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify the specific room in which each asset is located, with only BLE beacons as the solution infrastructure.