In the real estate industry, location is everything. The same can be said of healthcare, where product and service-related items are lost more than found. In an era where transportation for medical supplies takes 440% longer than pre-pandemic times, adopting IoT-enabled asset tracking technologies like real-time location systems (RTLS) seems like an ideal solution to an ongoing problem.
Yet, hospitals are reluctant to launch digital innovations like RTLS without understanding the technical and financial feasibility of the solution. Read on to learn about three factors to prioritize when choosing an asset tracking system in healthcare: Total cost of ownership, ease of installation and maintenance, and use case scalability.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
Implementing an asset tracking solution like RTLS involves cost considerations far beyond the price points of devices, access points, and installation fees. Rather, TCO represents a combination of both direct and indirect costs associated with the solution’s lifespan. Direct, or hard costs, refer to the expenses required to sustain the lifetime of equipment – namely hardware, software, licensing, maintenance, and ongoing support. Indirect, or soft costs, are more intangible expenses related to operational efficiency and network downtimes.
Passive radio frequency identification (RFID) has been the prevailing technology for asset tracking in healthcare, and employs low-cost, low-frequency tags for event-based tracking to provide “snapshots” of an item’s last known location. When compared with RTLS, however, RFID incurs a higher TCO due to infrastructure costs, labor-intensive manual process, and inability to provide up-to-the-minute views of equipment location data. Conversely, RTLS leverages an optimal blend of varying technologies, like BLE-based (Bluetooth Low Energy) tags, for example, to automate item finding across massive campuses – in real time, and at scale – while requiring minimal infrastructure investment and lower TCO.
Compared to the above costs, RTLS can generate substantial ROI via sheer cost savings, where the system may “pay for itself” over time. That’s because real-time location data simplifies item finding – providing the sub-room-level location accuracy needed to track high-value medical equipment in real-time. This increases staff productivity and reduces costs associated with over-purchasing and right-sizing inventories due to misplaced, high-value medical equipment.
To help ensure a lower TCO, drive further value by looking to a provider that pledges unwavering assistance throughout the entire implementation process and solution lifecycle and includes day-two support – streamlining everything from installation, user training, and continuous delivery to automatic upgrades, updates, and functionality with remote or on-site technicians, as-needed.
A proactive, transparent approach that encompasses up-front and ongoing solution costs and an estimated savings potential, can help hospitals derive a baseline for TCO. As a result of cost savings, hospitals can reallocate financial resources more strategically to meet other business needs.
Ease of Installation and Maintenance
After cost, ease of solution implementation and maintainability are pivotal considerations for RTLS. Deployments shouldn’t be overly complex, interfere with patient care, increase the workload on hospital staff during implementation, or compete with other overarching IT priorities. Flexible, seamless integration with current systems, platforms, workflows, and processes is paramount for unifying data and eliminating silos in the healthcare ecosystem.
APIs ensure frictionless integration – and interoperability – of an RTLS with third-party software, existing technologies, and systems. Leveraging an end-to-end, singular platform simplifies and hastens initial implementation while streamlining ongoing updates. With cloud-based systems, medical facilities gain true automation with over-the-air upgrades while avoiding interruptions, downtime, and operational disturbances typical of on-site, manual updates.
Platforms and processes are critical – but even more vital are the people behind them – the end-users. Take time to document the unique wants and needs of these users, from nurses to biomeds to admitting staff, and capitalize on their feedback. Understand how RTLS can empower them in their daily roles, along with relevant features and desired functionality, to create a strategic “shopping list.” Doing so will make it easier to sift through solutions and discern the best fit.
While there’s no shortage of offerings in the RTLS market, it’s important to avoid highly invasive solutions that require on-site servers or databases, consume an excessive amount of power, or necessitate internal IT resources – all of which disrupt operations and bear hefty installation fees. With a truly modern, reliable RTLS vendor, healthcare enterprises benefit from highly skilled installation technicians that operate around their client’s schedules to provide diligent yet efficient deployment services.
Since security is integral for protecting sensitive patient records and hospital data, look to RTLS offerings that operate independently, bypassing the hospital’s corporate, on-premises Wi-Fi network. This drastically reduces the risk of potential exposure to vulnerabilities during deployment and throughout the solution’s lifecycle, while alleviating concerns that could inhibit purchasing and adopting a solution. Once live, the solution must be easy to maintain without burdening internal IT teams or incurring additional support-related expenses that dissolve potential ROI. Keeping projects on time and budget relies on selecting an experienced, proven IoT deployment services and network provider – ideally under the same offering.
Use Case Scalability
RTLS encompasses far more than simply item finding, given its dynamic, powerful capabilities that drive efficiencies while fostering measurable short- and long-term ROI. Choosing a scalable, extendable system helps healthcare organizations deploy systems for one department and one application today, like asset tracking, then extend the solution for future use cases of tomorrow – like environmental monitoring, workflow management, condition-based equipment maintenance, wayfinding, and duress response, for example.
In early implementations, many hospitals benefit from real-time medical supply management visibility. This is especially promising for clinical areas with the most high-value, frequently used items, such as the cardiac catheterization lab or operating room. Over time, RTLS can be scaled to meet other pressing facility needs, like optimizing and automating sterile processing department (SPD) workflows.
In the SPD, intelligent monitoring and specialized tracking capabilities monitor medical equipment throughout rigorous cleaning processes via durable asset tags – saving SPDs time, streamlining sterilization workflows, and improving compliance. Prioritizing scalability also helps extend the solution to multiple sites, facilities, and campuses in a medical network, where an influx of additional users, devices, and respective data can easily be capacitated.
In addition to applying RTLS for the use cases described above, there is massive potential to derive insights about use patterns, utilization rates, and inventory. That’s why scalability is so important for delivering total data transparency with unified systems that hospitals cannot outgrow. However, data can be overwhelming, especially in large volumes, so proactive planning is vital to ensure it doesn’t sit idle. Once collected and centralized, this data can be used for actionable, measurable, evidence-based decision-making at every level within the healthcare enterprise.
MachineQ for Asset Management
It’s no secret that RTLS can promote operational excellence, cost savings, and efficiency in the healthcare landscape by automating workflows and empowering staff to work smarter, not harder. While TCO, ease of installation and maintenance, and use case scalability are three fundamental considerations, the bottom line remains: Partnering with a vendor that charters the course from discovery to go-live is paramount for sustainable success.
MachineQ for Asset Management delivers everything needed to go live quickly, from deployment services and network provisioning to ongoing assistance – including day-two support. Healthcare ecosystems benefit from precise, up-to-the-minute asset location data with a scalable, affordable solution that grows effortlessly to meet evolving business needs and easily address future use cases.