By Melissa Berrios, RN, BSN

Over the past two years, the pandemic has taken a significant toll on healthcare professionals. Staff in healthcare facilities across the country have encountered a significant increase in resource shortages, critical patients, and workplace violence

While the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act to tackle the latter problem (It hasn’t yet become law), there are cost-effective technologies healthcare leaders can implement right now to address the other issues. 

Consider Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, such as real-time location systems (RTLS), which provide the support resource-constrained healthcare teams need most. Using IoT-enabled tags, badges, and sensors, an RTLS’ active-RFID technology platform and connected software applications display the locations of medical equipment, staff, and patients. This reduces the time it takes to locate and obtain critical assets and staff and provides hospital leadership with operational analytics into workflow bottlenecks and safety concerns. 

Moreover, RTLS alleviates staff burdens with capabilities such as asset management, clinical and operational workflow, and duress response, allowing healthcare staff to focus more time on patient care—a move that increases staff satisfaction. 

Better Asset Management with RTLS

According to a 2009 report published in Nursing Times, one-third of nurses spent at least an hour searching for equipment such as IV pumps, drip stands, and patient monitoring devices during an average shift—a sum that totaled 6,000 hours a month. Fortunately, the tides are shifting. With the implementation of RTLS, nursing and biomed staff can locate mobile medical equipment within minutes—saving staff much needed time and reducing stress. 

By incorporating an RTLS solution like asset monitoring, workflow becomes even more streamlined as caregivers have a fast and accurate asset search tool at their fingertips. Precious time is no longer wasted searching for available equipment. Following IoT-enabled RTLS asset monitoring deployments, hospitals have measured thousands of hours reallocated to patient care and more than a 50% increase in staff satisfaction.

RTLS provides real-time room and bay-level map views, lists locations of medical equipment, reports equipment usage, and provides alerts for equipment maintenance and cleaning. Additionally, automating periodic automatic replacement (PAR)-level inventory management ensures medical devices are always readily available. 

To further reduce headaches, certain RTLS software solutions offer a convenient mobile app providing caregivers visibility into the status of their equipment or service requests and robust reporting tools. Administrators can use the system’s backend to monitor PAR levels and identify inefficient workflows or inventory utilization. This is especially critical as healthcare facilities continue to experience supply chain challenges.

Automated Nurse Call, Workflow, and Hand Hygiene Compliance

Nurse call automation involves integrating an RTLS with a nurse call system, creating a relatively simple solution that delivers significant benefits and strengthens communication between nurses and other staff members.

When a caregiver enters a patient’s room, instead of having to navigate an obstacle course comprised of medical equipment to hit a call cancellation button, their IoT-enabled badge automatically sends a signal that cancels the call and documents the time of their arrival and total care time. This solution allows caregivers to immediately assess the patient’s needs—creating a better experience for both parties and saving time. Facilities also gain comprehensive intelligence that can help to improve processes and procedures, like resource allocation during peak hours. 

Beyond the nurse call system, leadership can utilize an RTLS to reduce bottlenecks within clinical workflows and enhance overall patient care. Using the robust reporting engine offered by an RTLS, healthcare staff can keep tabs on key patient flow metrics such as patient volume, length of stay, room utilization, wait times, and time spent with the provider. Staff can then identify and act on anomalies or process inefficiencies.

Healthcare facilities are also required to monitor and document their ongoing hand-hygiene compliance rates in patient care areas. Direct observation is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and it often produces inaccurate resultsWith an RTLS, the badges worn by staff communicate to sensors at handwashing stations to automatically log every handwashing opportunity. This IoT technology virtually eliminates the time staff spend doing data entry and building compliance reports. Most importantly, it also provides facilities with comprehensive analysis tools to identify where additional interventions are needed to improve compliance—helping to reduce the spread of healthcare-associated infections and keeping staff and patients healthy.  

Staff Duress Alerting System and Safety Measures

Violence against healthcare professionals has surged since the start of the pandemic, and some hospitals have experienced a more than 50% increase in dangerous incidents. An RTLS safety solution provides a reliable duress alerting system that prevents threats from escalating into violent situations by giving healthcare professionals the ability to discreetly send panic alerts to the security team from an easy access button on their wearable badge. 

Providing peace of mind and error-free emergency response, the alert immediately and accurately communicates the exact location of the staff member via a dedicated network. ​​Increasing response times to prevent staff injury not only creates a better and safer work environment, but it also reduces the number of lost workdays which would put further strain on other staff members.

To remain compliant with the newly updated Joint Commission workplace violence prevention standards, RTLS technology provides automated approaches to conduct annual worksite violence analyses, establish processes to monitor and accurately report workplace violence, and educate on de-escalation and intervention tactics. By leveraging the robust automated reporting tools provided by RTLS, teams can proactively address this issue and reduce incidents. 

Finding the Best RTLS Fit

When seeking an RTLS, selecting an end-to-end strategic partner that offers a comprehensive suite of solutions makes it easier to expand the system over time to other aspects of facility operations. For many healthcare facilities, after leveraging the insights provided through the system and experiencing a meaningful return on the initial investment, staff and leadership often find themselves encouraged to consider other RTLS use cases. An early investment in the right strategic partner allows facilities to improve the existing system infrastructure and better support their healthcare professionals and enhance the patient experience.

The pandemic has continued to demonstrate the importance of healthcare professionals and the additional roles they play. As COVID-19 and supply chain shortages linger, healthcare leaders must consider the benefits of providing healthcare staff invaluable peace of mind and greater support. By investing in additional technologies, like an RTLS, healthcare leadership can support their staff through the challenges they are facing daily. Health systems need automated solutions to help staff work smarter, not harder. This approach improves outcomes and safety while simultaneously reducing the operational cost of care delivery in a scalable, repeatable manner.

Melissa Berrios, RN, BSN, is a clinical educator at CenTrak. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 Magazine chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at editor@24x7mag.com