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Speeding Patient Throughput with RTLS

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, August 15, 2011
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There are a few goals that nearly all hospitals and busy emergency departments share: to improve patient flow, shorten the length of stay, cut down on the time it takes to get a patient admitted, and reduce the number of patients who leave the ED without being treated. Making life easier for clinicians and staff and cutting waste would be nice, too.

Healthcare organizations, including the Wilmington, DE–based Christiana Care Health System, are tackling them all using data from RFID-enabled real-time locating systems, or RTLS.

“We put the system in place to solve a very real patient-flow problem. We were using manual tracking. But people moved and situations changed quicker than humans could update the information,” says Linda Laskowski-Jones, vice president of emergency and trauma services for the two-hospital system. “But very quickly after implementing RTLS we realized that the data we can derive from this, from the performance improvement level, is extremely powerful.”

An ‘elegant solution’

When patients arrive at one of Christiana Care’s two EDs, they’re pinned with an RFID badge that tracks their movement through the continuum of care. Real-time tracking allows the organization to measure interval data—the time between a patient’s arrival to the time they see a doctor or a nurse, or to the time the doctor orders labs or an x-ray, or to the time those results are available to be communicated back to the patient.

Each of these discreet data elements is fed into a centralized data warehouse that is integrated with data from other systems within the hospital. The RFID system is interfaced with CPOE, laboratory, and radiology systems so that, for example, the lab or radiology department is alerted to new orders and the clinician knows when the results are ready and where to find the patient to deliver them.

“Our strategy for developing this system is to have one place to go as a team, whether you’re a doctor or a nurse or an ancillary department, to be able to look at a spreadsheet and identify the patient’s needs and then drill into other systems through a common spreadsheet,” Laskowski-Jones says. 

“Our IT department worked very hard to set up the interface with context matching. So if you’re in patient John Doe’s chart and you’re clicking on the radiology icon, for example, it will drill you right into John Doe’s digital radiology image [and] we’re not toggling into multiple programs ... It’s very elegant,” she says.

But the organization doesn’t just track all that data—it uses it to make changes that have improved some of those common problems that EDs face.

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