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Speeding Patient Throughput with RTLS

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, August 15, 2011
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Christiana Care changed the sequential triage process for super-track patients; previously, the patient moved from waiting room to triage and back to the fast-track area. Now the goal is for patients go straight to one of the two supertrack rooms with a team made up of a physician assistant, a nurse, and a technician in each room, providing simultaneous care.

If the patient is sent to radiology or moved to the treatment room, the teams turn over that room so a new patient can come in for treatment.

“We shaved an amazing amount of time off. So what was a two-and-a-half-hour process at the busiest part of the day consistently is 60 minutes or less,” she says. “It was the data from the tracker that allowed us to look at every interval that that patient went through and then start to ask if all of these intervals are necessary. Because every time they have to go through a separate, distinct process, there’s a price tag. And the price tag is time.”

Another outcome of the process redesign was that the ED can now handle more volume—and fewer patients leave without treatment—a major cause of patient dissatisfaction. The number dropped from about 4% to 5% and is now typically 2% to 3% or less.

‘Too much stuff’

The thing about hospital supplies is that they’re really expensive. Lose one pump and a hospital is out $20,000. So for hospitals, the entry to RFID is often simple asset tracking—tagging medical devices, medications, and other property—to find a piece of equipment that goes astray.

But The Ohio State University Medical Center is taking RFID a step further, not only making it easier to find equipment, but also using the technology to deter and detect theft and even to make sure small but expensive devices don’t get mixed in with soiled linens and thrown away. 

Everything that’s tagged has a defined zone. If a pump turns up in an area outside of its zone—the loading dock Dumpster, for example—the system sends an alert so someone can go dig it out of the trash. 

Freezers and refrigerators get temperature-monitoring RFID tags that sound an alarm so that expensive medications aren’t destroyed when someone accidentally leaves a door open or a compressor blows.

The RFID tags also prevent another common hospital problem: hoarding.

“There are pieces of equipment that previously were hard to find and in demand. So you have clinical staff hiding them in a closet so they knew where it was. Now they don’t have to do that; they can look on a map and see where it is,” says Chad Neal, director of technology at the six-hospital system in Columbus, OH.

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