OTTAWA – The Ottawa Hospital, a three-campus medical centre with over 1,100 beds, will go live in late April with a Real-Time Location System (RTLS) that will track equipment, patients and staff.
The academic medical centre contracted with IBM and Ekahau in 2013 for system, and since then has been planning for the rollout – a process that included geo-mapping the physical layout of the facilities.
“We’re currently completing geo-mapping the hospitals, which consist of over 3 million square feet,” said Dr. Glen Geiger (pictured), chief medical information officer at the Ottawa Hospital. “It has been an important step.”
Dr. Geiger noted the project will begin with the deployment of 1,500 smart IV pumps, all outfitted with active tags. The tags continually emit a signal, meaning the RTLS can always determine the exact location of the equipment.
Clinicians will be able to find the pumps faster than ever before – locating pumps can be a challenge in a large hospital, as equipment often can’t be found just when it is needed.
That’s expected to contribute to the quality of patient care, but there’s also an economic benefit. The Ottawa Hospital was just at the stage where it needed to replace its fleet of pumps, and was able to order far fewer new ones because of the RTLS technology.
Normally, hospitals operate with extra pumps, because so many can’t be found when they’re required. “We’ll be able to track all the IV pumps,” said Dr. Geiger. “For use by clinicians, and for maintenance by biomedical engineering.”
He added that, “We believe that with tracking, we’d need to purchase fewer pumps. It’s an example of immediate payback.”
There will be huge benefits, too, once patients are given armbands with tags. Dr. Geiger observed that “patients are always on the move, and their location is not always well known.”
They could be in their beds, but often, they’re in the cafeteria, in a clinic or test lab, or in transit.
Finding the patients when they’re needed can sometimes be a trial. Locating them quickly, through use of the RTLS, will not only reduce frustration levels, it will also improve the efficiency of the hospital.
Dr. Geiger estimates that CT and MR throughput can be increased by 10% – 15% by eliminating the ‘hold time,’ when technologists are waiting for patients to arrive.
“Transporting patients takes longer than you’d think,” said Dr. Geiger, as many have issues with IV pumps, oxygen, or must be lifted into guerneys. During that time, the CT and MRI suites will stop testing other patients, as they’re not sure when the scheduled patient will arrive.
If you know exactly where the patient is, however, and when he will arrive, you can continue doing more CT and MR exams, he explained.
It’s expected that efficiencies will be improved in the Emergency Department, too. Once patients have checked in, it’s not always known where they are, and staff members are often phoning around trying to find out.
The RTLS will show them exactly where the patients are.
Paul Sulkers, industry executive with IBM Canada, noted this will enable management to spot bottlenecks and improve processes. “Using analytics, we can mine the data,” said Sulkers. “We can improve processes and become smarter.”
“We can track waits, how long procedures took, and even how long it took for transfers,” said Dr. Geiger, adding that management will be able to enhance quality and efficiency.
He pointed out there is an important safety benefit to RTLS, as well. “Like other facilities, the Ottawa Hospital is increasingly concerned about the safety of its staff.
Using a device worn around the neck, staff members can sound an alarm when they feel threatened, and the security force will know the exact location of the person. Help can be sent immediately.
Dr. Geiger noted the use of RTLS and tags will be steadily expanded to additional departments and applications.
Rana Chreyh, a biotechnology and quality management consultant, observed that, “Once you’ve got RTLS for one application, you’ve got the basis for others. It just amounts to adding more tags.”
She noted that in a typical 500-bed hospital, staff and clinicians will spend hundreds of thousands of hours each year simply looking for equipment. That time could have been better used for clinical purposes.
Chreyh pointed out there are myriad uses for RFID tags, including better tracking of patients, staff, lab samples, and more.
And while there is a cost to all of this, she said there is also a cost to quality.
Moreover, she said, “If you don’t invest, you can get caught in a downward spiral of errors and growing costs,” such as the cost of delays, repeat tests and re-admitting patients.