10 tips for getting the best ROI on a real-time location system in hospitals

There are very few “no brainers” in hospital technology purchases — most of the decisions about what to buy and how to implement what we buy are complex. However, one decision is pretty easy — you have to put in asset management and tracking solutions for obvious reasons. But, how do you make sure that […]

There are very few “no brainers” in hospital technology purchases — most of the decisions about what to buy and how to implement what we buy are complex. However, one decision is pretty easy — you have to put in asset management and tracking solutions for obvious reasons. But, how do you make sure that you can achieve a meaningful ROI on your purchase? I reached out to Marcus Ruark, Vice President at Intelligent InSites, and a seasoned technology executive with a deep understanding of healthcare operations and business processes to help answer that question. He has helped many healthcare providers develop real-time location and process automation strategies to improve key operational processes so I asked him to give us some advice about how to make RTLS based asset management a “no brainer.”  Here’s what Marcus had to say.

By Marcus Ruark

According to a recent survey by KLAS Research, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of hospitals use Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS), and most of them have deployed RTLS in the area of asset tracking and asset management. Based on the experience Intelligent InSiteshas with enterprise-wide RTLS solutions in hospitals, here is a list of top 10 things hospitals should do if they want to achieve a hard-dollar return on their investment.

1. Enlist and maintain continuous executive support and participation
Engage not only your “technology” executives (CIO, CTO, and CMIO), but also your CFO, COO, and CNO. Given that an enterprise RTLS solution can — and should — touch so many strategic operational processes across your organization, you will want to keep your executive team highly involved. With strong vision and support from the “top,” you will be able to ensure that your people and your processes can leverage the full advantages of an enterprise RTLS solution. How do you to get buy-in from the C-level team? Show them the numbers: expected hard-dollar savings, revenue opportunities, and HCAHPS improvement opportunity.

2. Understand that it’s asset management that matters (not just asset tracking)
If your organization is using (or planning to use) an RTLS solution to find equipment faster (asset tracking), you are missing out on the tremendous opportunity of RTLS to achieve transformational process improvement. As discussed in “Location Is Not Enough,” while it’s true that the “L” in RTLS stands for “Location,” it turns out that just knowing the real-time location of a piece of medical equipment is not good enough. True RTLS-enabled asset management provides not just location information, but also real-time and historical status information, enterprise and departmental inventory utilization information, workflow automation for equipment-related processes, and alerting and messaging for certain equipment-related events. RTLS asset management improves how you use your equipment, how you procure and maintain your equipment, and how you rent equipment—increasing your operational efficiency, improving patient and staff satisfaction and safety, and reducing hard-dollar costs.

3. Pick the right assets to tag and manage with your RTLS solution

There are many different criteria for determining which assets you should track and manage with RTLS, including shrinkage reduction, patient safety, compliance, and the reduction of non-value-added (NVA) time. However, it is almost always equipment mobility, user demand, inventory “right-sizing” or rentals reduction that promotes a particular equipment category into the top of any organization’s “Must Track Items” list. Here is a typical Top 5 list:

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4. Document your pre-implementation baseline performance

How do you know if your project is successful? You need to have a baseline to measure the ongoing impact of your RTLS deployment. Here are some examples of what you should track before and after:

  • How much time does your staff spend during a shift locating a piece of equipment?
  • What is the value of equipment write-offs due to shrinkage?
  • How much are you spending on rentals?
  • What are the utilization rates of your assets?

5. Engage your end-users (nursing, biomed, facilities, support services, etc.) from the very beginning

Try to involve (from the very start of the project) the personnel who will be using the RTLS solution on a daily basis. This will allow you to tailor the solution to their specific preferences, requirements, workflows, and expectations—enabling you to achieve a high level of system utilization. Early communication also highlights RTLS’ ability to “make your job easier,” avoiding the risk that your people might feel overburdened by yet another “IT project.”

6. Discuss and prioritize all of the process changes that need to take place within your organization to leverage your RTLS solution

Process improvement begins by recognizing the causes of the problem and having a willingness to make appropriate changes. To be successful, you need to specify your desired outcomes, consider all the process changes that need to take place, and obtain agreement for such changes from all constituencies affected by the process change. With a well-defined plan, you can then initiate the changes and evaluate their true impact.

7. Ensure your maps, location names, and asset names are logically organized

If the names and locations within your RTLS solution don’t match up with your users’ expectations or the reality of your hospital, the system will lack the intuitive user experience that it should have. For instance, if the nurses on the 2nd floor of Main refer to Room 212 as the “Lounge” (even if it is just a converted office supplies closet), then your location name should reflect that (as in “Room 212 – Lounge,” for instance). If everyone calls your NIBP monitors “Dinamaps,” so should your RTLS solution (note, however, that most RTLS solutions provide the flexibility to create “alias” names if needed). During the pre-implementation configuration process, it’s critical to engage your users, run through different RTLS solution usage scenarios, and configure your solution in the most intuitive way. If you are doing an enterprise deployment across several facilities, it will also be important to standardize location naming and equipment naming to avoid confusion.

8. Pay attention to training—make it fun and keep it up

If not done in a thoughtful manner, any form of healthcare IT training can be a drag. RTLS training, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to be fun and rewarding. RTLS solutions are straightforward, so training can be simple and quick (so keep it simple and quick!). Consider using brief “how to” guides or short live demonstrations. Also, because of the physical, real-world nature of the solution, RTLS training can be fun—consider creating a scavenger hunt, for instance. Finally, remember that successful, sustainable solution adoption takes time and repetition, so have a clearly defined training program for your existing staff and for new hires.

9. Leverage an enterprise-class RTLS Business Intelligence solution to provide deep and flexible data analysis for continuous process improvement

RTLS solutions collect massive quantities of valuable data. Every second, every hour, every day—month after month, year after year—the system is collecting and processing information on the location, status, condition, and interaction of all tracked equipment, patients, and staff. First, make sure your solution is saving all of this data, year after year, then leverage true Business Intelligence with your RTLS solution. This will empower your users to leverage all of their real-world, real-time data to produce actionable insights critical to making sound and timely decisions. As one of our customers puts it: “With the increased adoption of RTLS solutions in hospitals, we need to ensure that we are not becoming data rich but information poor.”

10. Provide regular updates on hard-dollar ROI improvements and the ongoing value of the RTLS solution to both executives and end users

The true value of your RTLS solution is in driving measurable change and making continuous process improvements. Therefore it’s critical to understand that you don’t “close the project” when the implementation phase ends. Schedule regular updates to the executive team to show them tangible results and implemented process changes. Meet regularly with end users, getting them to share best practices and provide ideas how the system can enhance other processes in your organizations, such as patient flow or temperature monitoring. And remember, using RTLS for asset management will just be the beginning of your path to enterprise-wide RTLS success.

Following this Top 10 list will help you achieve hard-dollar improvements and become the “RTLS Hero” your organization needs.

Shahid Shah is an enterprise software analyst with 15 years of experience in healthcare IT. He writes regularly at The Healthcare IT Guy.

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