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Using RTLS Tech to Improve Workflows, Patient Care

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   November 29, 2023

Aurora Health Care has integrated the technology into new clinics, giving providers and patients a pathway to better care coordination

Real-time location system (RTLS) technology has long been used to keep track of objects, supplies, medicines, and even staff and patients within the healthcare space. Now some organizations are using the platform to map out provider workflows and patient journeys.

At Aurora Health Care, a Milwaukee-based health system encompassing 26 hospitals and more than 600 other care sites, leadership decided to incorporate an RTLS platform into new clinic construction. With that technology in place, the health system has been able to boost patient visits and streamline provider and staff workflows so that patients spend as little time as possible waiting around.

“We really appreciate it because it expedites the visit process,” says Elise Dieringer, BSN, RN, Aurora’s manager of clinic operations. “It really comes down to enhancing workflows. And we’re still learning every day how we can use it more, how we can use it better.”

With many health systems looking to maximize patient time and reduce workflow inefficiencies, RTLS technology offers an innovative platform for understanding the care pathway. Upon checking in to a clinic for an appointment, patients are given a badge and assigned an exam room, similar to a self check-in. The badge links to the clinic’s EHR and the patient’s record and alerts the patient’s care team, with the appropriate care team member sent to that room. If the patient is seeing multiple providers, the badge issues alerts when one provider is finished, when diagnostic tests are needed, or when it’s time to finish the visit. The patient can then be discharged from the room instead of the front desk.

Health system officials say the platform increased capacity at one clinic by about 15%, or an additional 86 visits per month, without reducing face-to-face time.

What it does reduce, Dieringer says, is time spent waiting to see a physician or nurse, or time spent by care team members waiting for a patient to be ready. Care team members know immediately when a patient is ready, and staff can use the data accumulated over time to better schedule patient visits and map out room utilization and care team workflows.

Dieringer says new clinics are designed so that the care team is based in a central area, rather than individual offices (one of the sticking points to provider buy-in, she adds, was getting physicians to see that they didn’t need to have their own offices). The floor plan is then mapped out to facilitate quick and efficient patient flow, with the idea that the entire care team, from nurses to doctors to specialists, goes to the patient rather than having the patient move around to meet each care team member.

“It really is a team-based approach” to healthcare delivery, she says.

Dieringer says the next step will be integrating the RTLS platform into an existing clinic, a bit of a challenge considering the technology will need to be designed around an existing floor plan. Beyond that, the health system will be looking at how it can use the data collected for other purposes, such as tracking the spread of viruses and infections within the clinic, monitoring supply chain efficiency and device use, even improving staff and patient safety.

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


RTLS technology has long been used by health systems to keep track of supplies, devices, and even people

Healthcare executives are now applying the technology to chart patient and provider workflows and improve care coordination

Aurora Health Care is using the platform in new clinics to direct patients to their exam rooms and coordinate their care teams, reducing time spent waiting and improving throughput.

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