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How to Deploy a Health-Care Real-Time Location System

Strategic advice from four hospitals that are tagging and tracking assets—and achieving a return on their investment—can help you plan a successful solution.
By John Edwards
Sep 27, 2010—Real-time location system (RTLS) technologies employ radio signals to locate and continuously track tagged assets, both indoors and outdoors. Although RTLS applications span multiple industries, health-care organizations are among the most enthusiastic adopters, using the technology to monitor and manage a wide range of expensive and easily lost or damaged assets, including medical equipment and pharmaceuticals.

While such systems typically generate a rapid return on investment for health-care organizations, several issues can lengthen deployment times and drive up costs. Critical challenges include integrating the technology into expansive and RF-sensitive environments, understanding the benefits and drawbacks of various RTLS approaches, securing the buy-in of management and staff members, and training employees.

A carefully planned RTLS strategy has a better chance of success than an initiative that has not been fully thought out. To help you avoid the pitfalls that could derail your RFID project, RFID Journal spoke with four executives from health-care organizations that have successfully deployed real-time locating systems:

Sam Itani, the VP of support at San Joaquin Community Hospital, in Bakersfield, Calif. (see San Joaquin Hospital Boosts Asset Utilization)
Maureen Hetu, the CIO of Lourdes Health System, in Camden, N.J. (see Lady of Lourdes Medical Center Implements RFID-Based Asset Tracking)
Scott Lapham, a senior network engineer at Southeast Alabama Medical Center, in Dothan, Ala. (see Southeast Alabama Medical Center Expands RFID Deployment)
Steve Montgomery, the logistics supervisor at Genesis Health System, in Davenport, Iowa (see Genesis Health System Uses RFID to Drill Deeper)

The strategic advice offered by these individuals follows. "Like anything else, if it's not done properly, you won't reap the benefits," Lapham says, "so make sure you're getting into RTLS in the right way."

Set the Goal
Most health-care RTLS projects begin with one or two basic goals. For Southeast Alabama Medical Center, the aim was to use the facility's RTLS to monitor its most valuable equipment assets with room-level accuracy, as well as to track the temperatures of perishable pharmaceuticals. "We started developing the asset-tracking system," Lapham explains, "and followed up shortly thereafter with the temperature-monitoring system." The hospital uses a system provided by Finnish RTLS company Ekahau.

San Joaquin Community Hospital is also utilizing an RTLS to track high-value mobile assets, including wheeled beds, gurneys and computer carts. "Our staff was always looking for these things," Itani states. "That's how we started—that's what got us going."
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