VHA Moves Toward RTLS Rollout

By Mark Roberti

The department that manages health care for U.S. veterans is doing a good job of planning a nationwide rollout to more than 150 medical centers.


On June 3, I had the opportunity to speak at an event hosted by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that manages 152 hospitals and more than 1,000 other points of care, including 965 outpatient clinics, 133 community living centers, 278 walk-in readjustment counseling centers and 96 rehabilitation treatment centers that serve soldiers returning from war. VHA now seeks to deploy RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) technology across all of its medical centers, starting next year.

I came away from the event impressed with how the agency is managing this ambitious project. The deployment is part of a multifaceted transformation initiative that the VA launched as directed by Eric K. Shinseki, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. More than a dozen plans were developed to enhance VA health care—from technical improvements, such as RTLS, to changing the delivery of care focus to a team-based, veteran-centric system. The first thing done was to appoint someone to manage the project. Kimberly Brayley was named the director of VHA’s RTLS Project Management Office.

The VA put a halt on the procurement of new RTLS technology as it creates a strategic plan to deploy systems across the entire network of medical centers. The goal is to have a national procurement contract in place, and to begin rolling out RTLS deployments as early as April 2012.

What impressed me is that VHA is taking an enterprise approach. The organization is divided into 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs). Instead of allowing each network to deploy a separate system, which might be incompatible with those used by other VISNs, VHA wants to choose a single RTLS platform for all of its VISNs. There will likely be more than one technology provider, but the systems will need to be able to interoperate.

VHA is aware that it needs to get its back-end systems ready for the rollout. Speakers noted that if different VISNs—or different departments within a single VISN—called the same assets by different names, then tagging those items would lead to confusion. The agency is currently evaluating middleware solutions, with the intent of choosing one for all VISNs. That’s smart, as it will reduce integration complexities.

I like that VHA chose to hold a conference to educate folks from around the country regarding the nature of RFID and RTLS technologies, as well as why it is deploying the technology, how it will be used and so forth. VHA invited speakers from hospitals that have already deployed such solutions, and those in charge of pilots within the agency. This kind of education can help ensure that everyone is on the same page, thereby making the deployment smoother.

Hospitals that we’ve written about have saved millions in capital expenditures, and reduced the amount of time that nurses and biomedical engineers spend searching for equipment using RTLS technology. Clearly, the potential benefits are vast for an organization with so many facilities. Rolling out an RTLS on such a large scale is a challenge, but VHA is doing a lot of things right, so its chances for success are high.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.