To RTLS or Not to RTLS

By Harold Boeck and Ygal Bendavid

The question of whether to deploy a real-time location solution doesn't have to be so weighty.

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You're a hospital manager and a request has landed on your desk from the intensive-care unit to increase operational efficiencies of mobile assets and ensure better compliance with regulatory requirements. You're aware that other hospitals are using RFID-based real-time location systems (RTLS) to track and manage high-value assets, and you've read numerous articles about the benefits they've achieved, including minimizing rental expenses and reducing the amount of time personnel spend searching for equipment.

But you're also aware of the challenges involved in having to decide among the many technology and application platforms on the market. Should you choose an active, passive ultrahigh-frequency or proprietary RFID system? Is it smart to leverage the hospital's Wi-Fi network? What about ultrawide-band, ultrasound or hybrid solutions? While each has its distinct advantages and limitations, these competing technologies seem to offer similar benefits, as do the various software platforms that collect and manage the data.

You want to make a wise decision, but you're already overloaded with other projects that seem simpler and less risky. Moreover, with this project you may get bogged down in endless comparative analyses, which will delay implementation.

We meet many hospital mangers who face this deploy-or-not-to-deploy question, and we always advise them to overcome their fears and jump into an RTLS project. Here's why.

Unlike the retail industry, which has chosen UHF EPC RFID for tracking items, the health-care industry is not going to settle on one standard any time soon. Choosing the right system was complex in 2010. It still is today and probably will be in five years. If you take a wait-and-see attitude, you will delay cost savings and other benefits you could be achieving now.

Another argument for moving forward resides in the fact that RTLS technologies are reliable and have been adapted to meet hospital requirements. RFID providers that work in the health-care sector have well-documented case studies and experience deploying their solutions in hospitals, including integrating RFID data into hospital information systems.

For those who point to the prohibitive cost of adopting an RTLS, we suggest conducting a return-on-investment analysis. Hospital managers will need to look at initial investment and total cost of ownership. We believe they'll find it's more expensive not to implement an RTLS.

Yes, choosing an RTLS is complex, but an RTLS enables real-time hospital decision-making and operational business intelligence that will lead to cost savings as well as an increase in operational efficiencies and improved patient care—and that's true for whichever technology solution you choose.

Harold Boeck and Ygal Bendavid are professors in the school of management at the Université du Québec á Montréal, and members of RFID Academia's research board.