Improving Healthcare Safety with the Use of RTLS


Improving Healthcare Safety
with the Use of RTLS

As a patient, you don’t go to a hospital or a clinic to feel worse. As a healthcare provider, you don’t go to work to feel unsafe. Unfortunately, these situations are often reality. Consider the following:

  • One in four patients admitted to a hospital will suffer some form of unintended harm.1
  • The number of medical device recalls in the US quadrupled over from 2009 to 2015, surpassing 3,000 in 2015.2
  • Only 30% of hospitals have implemented the World Health Organizations best practices for hand hygiene.3
  • One in six patients admitted to a hospital will get an infection.4
  • More than half of nurses who work in emergency departments report they’ve been physically assaulted on the job.5

These industry-wide statistics are a reminder of the need for improving healthcare safety. While there are many ways of addressing this growing problem, the use of real-time locating system (RTLS) technology has quickly become a proven solution for improving the safety of both patients and staff.

Gain Visibility into the Location of
Medical Equipment, Staff and Patients

Medical Equipment

What happens when your staff cannot easily locate medical equipment that is required to deliver patient care? At a minimum, there will be patients frustrated with waiting and nurses irritated by having to take time to search for equipment. In more severe cases, there could be a patient’s life hanging in the balance while the code blue care team scrambles to get crash carts, intubation kits or other life-saving devices in their hands. While possibly extreme, this scenario demonstrates the risk to not only patients, but also the hospital. This risk can be mitigated by tagging equipment to provide real-time location visibility.

In addition, an RTLS system can help prevent medical equipment from accumulating in hallways. This enables healthcare organizations to meet The Joint Commission Standard for Life Safety, LS.02.01.20, which requires the hospital to maintain the integrity of the means of egress. With real-time visibility into equipment status and location, your staff does not need to keep equipment in the hallway for expected use.

Staff can see where equipment is on a map and retrieve it when needed. They can also request delivery of the equipment by creating a task within the RTLS system. The real-time locating systems also allow for rules to be set  to notify staff if a piece of equipment is close to violating The Joint Commission’s 30-minute “parking time” rule. For example, a notification can be sent automatically to transporters when a specific type of equipment, such as a bed, has been in any hallway or passageway for a defined number of minutes, e.g. 20 min., so they can promptly dispatch someone to pick up that piece of equipment and take it to a cleaning or storage area.

Solutions in Practice

The environmental services team at Infirmary Health receives automated notifications if any piece of equipment, which can potentially obstruct the 8 feet of corridor clearance, needs to be relocated.

Hospital or Clinic Staff

During every shift, nurses need assistance from others on the care team to accomplish their work. Lifting a patient, transporting a patient to a lab or surgery, or finding another staff member for identity confirmation before administering medication, are all examples of daily tasks that require assistance. Making it simple for team members to find each other not only improves efficiency, put also directly increases patient safety. Additionally, staff safety improves when, with a simple button press, staff can automatically send signals to nearby colleagues, allowing for rapid response to staff distress situations.


A missing patient incident is likely one of the “what keeps me awake at night” moments for any healthcare provider. Articles such as “Body found in hospital stairwell” 6 remind us of the sad reality that these occurrences do happen in the hospital environment. One way to prevent such patient elopement is by adding a location sensor to patient ID badges. Not only will staff have visibility into patient location at all times, but an RTLS-based system can also notify staff if a patient leaves a designated area, such as their assigned room or ward.

A locating badge can also be used by a patient as a way to request assistance. What makes this much more powerful than a typical nurse call system, is that staff will know the exact physical location of a patient in need, not just their assigned room number, which might not be where they are when assistance is needed. In an outpatient environment, the ability to request help adds an additional safety measure, going beyond line-of-sight monitoring.

Solutions in Practice

At Group Health, patients push a button on their locating badge to send an alert in the event that they require immediate help. This is important for patients such as those receiving allergy treatments, who can suffer an allergic reaction while waiting in the rest area.

Ensure Damaged, Recalled, Expired or
Non-Sterile Equipment Isn’t Used for Patient Care

Each piece of medical equipment requires regular preventive maintenance. But what happens when a bio-medical engineer cannot locate it or if it is still being used for patient care? What if recalled equipment or expired supplies are used in the delivery of patient care? An RTLS-enabled asset and supplies tracking system provides healthcare organizations with the ability to quickly remove unsafe assets to ensure patient safety.

In addition, real-time locating systems can help staff be more proactive with broken equipment. With the press of a button on the equipment tag, staff can automatically notify the biomedical department when a piece of equipment needs repair. This notification communicates the exact ID and location for rapid response.

The same process can be applied to prevent non-sterile equipment, such as an IV pump, from entering patient rooms. The sheer volume and mobility of medical equipment can make it difficult for hospital staff to keep track of where an individual piece of equipment has been and where it is going. With the use of the RTLS system, healthcare providers can see the location and status (e.g. clean, dirty) of each asset in the hospital, thus eliminating the risk of using equipment which has not gone through the proper cleaning process.

Solutions in Practice

At one of the Veterans Administration’s medical centers, finding recalled equipment items went from being nearly impossible to happening within seconds with RTLS.

Prevent the Spread
of Infectious Diseases

RTLS solutions can improve healthcare safety by being instrumental in infection control. In the event a patient tests positive for a contagious disease, staff can instantly access reporting that identifies all of the locations, patients, staff and equipment that the infected patient came in contact with. Care providers can then use this information to take appropriate actions to contain, decontaminate and get individuals potentially exposed in for preventative treatment.

Your RTLS solution can also be used to gain instant access to meaningful real-time and historical information for analyzing infection patterns and assisting with compiling data requested by regulatory government agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Solutions in Practice

During a measles outbreak, Texas Health Resources ran a report which showed all team members’ schedules and locations. They ran this data against a current vaccinations report, and sent out targeted messages to those who were in contact with the infected patient and whether or not they were at risk.

Increase Hand-Hygiene Compliance

Low hand-hygiene compliance rates are surprisingly a significant issue. Even if you conduct hand-hygiene surveillance through observation, this data represents only certain windows of time. And it can be deceiving due to the Hawthorne effect, where those being observed display their “best behavior.” An RTLS-based hand hygiene monitoring solution can automate the recording of all hand hygiene events in a healthcare facility and can remind healthcare workers to wash hands before interacting with patients.

The RTLS-based solution documents all hand-hygiene events in the hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This gives infection prevention and process improvement specialists accurate, real-time hand-hygiene data to use to affect changes in hand-hygiene behavior or to adjust quantity or positioning of hand-washing devices. Supported by an RTLS solution, healthcare organizations can identify problem areas as well as monitor if the applied changes have made a positive impact. By choosing an enterprise-wide RTLS solution, you can compare hand hygiene performance across units, facilities and even regions or divisions to identify best practices.

Ensure Proper Temperature Monitoring

A hospital may have hundreds of refrigerators, freezers, and warming cabinets which contain temperature-sensitive items such as pharmaceuticals, blood, specimens, blankets or food. Equipment malfunction, human oversight, or something as simple as leaving the door ajar can cause temperatures to go above or below acceptable levels. The result can compromise patient safety, increase hospital expenses and even expose liability. To manage these risks, hospitals often apply manpower and task staff to monitor and log temperatures periodically every day. Though a workable solution, this takes caregivers away from their primary responsibilities and opens the door for human error.

With an RTLS solution, you can continuously and automatically monitor temperature without human error or time-consuming manual readings. Every few minutes the temperature readings are gathered by the RTLS system, which stores and processes information for each unit being monitored. If the temperature exceeds or drops below a pre-set threshold, an alert is transmitted so immediate corrective actions can be taken. Instant access to real-time and historical information regarding temperature readings and any corrective actions taken can also be used for compliance reporting required by The Joint Commission.

Solutions in Practice

With automated temperature monitoring, Wake Forest Baptist Health identified several refrigeration units that were not able to maintain the required temperatures to sustain their contents; something that hadn’t been found with their previous, manual process.

The use of real-time locating system (RTLS) technology has quickly become a proven solution in improving healthcare safety – for both patients and staff.



1 Levinson DR. Washington, DC: US Dept of Health & Human Services, Office of the Inspector General; November 2010. Report No. OEI-06-09-00090.
3 DebMed Poll

4 National and State Healthcare-Associated Infections Progress Report (HAI Progress Report)
5 Emergency Nurses Association online survey.


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Improve safety for patients and staff with location-based data.