Where RTLS can help, and which of the top ten health technology patient safety threats or hazards should give CIOs serious pause if leveraging their hospitals' Wi-Fi network for RTLS applicationsECRI Institute recently released their 2011 top 10 health technology hazards [free download with registration] which they believe every hospital’s patient safety program should be addressing. This list has been compiled annually for the last several years and includes hazards which ECRI researchers consider to have serious impact on patient care and patient safety.
The Wall Street Journal Health Blog recently published the list, describing the top 10 health technology threats in descending order:
1. Radiation therapy overdose and other dosing errors
2. Alarm hazards
3. Cross-contamination from flexible endoscopes
4. High radiation dose of CT scans
5. Data loss, system incompatibilities and other health IT complications
6. Luer misconnections
7. Oversedation during use of PCA infusion pumps
8. Needle sticks and other sharps injuries
9. Surgical fires
10. Defibrillator failures in emergency resuscitation attempts
Of the top 10 health technology threats to patient safety, several represent safety issues where RTLS can help make these incidents less likely. One in particular puts responsibility on CIOs to give serious consideration to potential patient safety hazards if leveraging their hospitals’ Wi-Fi network for RTLS applications.
• The first area where RTLS can help prevent errors is cross-contamination from flexible endoscopes. Accordingly to ECRI, at minimum, problems “can inconvenience patients and create anxiety; at worst, they can lead to life-threatening infections.” Equipment tracked with RTLS can be monitored to assure adherence to appropriate decontamination and/or sterile processing workflow and can alert when equipment workflows have missed a step and is staged for use in another patient care area.
• The next is defibrillator failures in emergency resuscitation attempts. This is a serious problem, in that these devices are only used during life-and-death situations; equipment failure here poses a serious problem. Equipment reliability is paramount! RTLS can be used on life-saving medical equipment not only to track its location for immediate use, but to set time/date-based alerts to assure safety checks and preventive maintenance schedules are performed in accordance with regulatory requirements. RTLS also allows biomedical department staff to work more efficiently and further helps ensure the 100% target is met for inspection, testing and regular preventive maintenance of life support medical equipment.
• The final safely issue should be of serious concern to CIOs contemplating using their Wi-Fi system for RTLS. Problems with health IT systems can lead to significant patient safety risks, including, according to ECRI, “lost data, the need for repeat testing and even patient injury or death.” Oftentimes, when RFID-RTLS is discussed for hospitals, CIOs look to leverage the Wi-Fi network infrastructure, rather than implementing a separate network. In our experience, Wi-Fi based RTLS is impractical and expensive, and consideration must be given to the potential of adversely affecting mission-critical applications running on the hospital’s Wi-Fi infrastructure. These patient safety concerns will only amplify with the drastically higher usage that will occur as the push for digitized systems rises. As such, CIOs need to be especially cognizant of the additional strain running RTLS on the Wi-Fi network can add.
There are, of course, many other technology choices that are purpose-built for RTLS and do not run on Wi-Fi. ZigBee was created to address the market need for a cost-effective, standards-based wireless networking solution that supports low data-rates, low-power consumption, security, and reliability and has proven to be the ideal choice for RFID-RTLS in healthcare. You can read more about ZigBee Wireless Sensor Networks, Why Not Wi-Fi and ZigBee/Wi-Fi Coexistence in the whitepapers listed here:
• From A-ZigBee ... The Truth About Sensor Networks
• Wi-Not Wi-Fi?
• ZigBee and Wireless Radio Frequency Coexistence
If you’re like most hospital organizations, you recognize that RTLS is an increasingly important strategic capability for a variety of efficiency, safety, quality and risk mitigation uses. Although patient safety and quality of care issues usually don’t get quantified in the financial ROI story of RTLS enterprise asset management, they certainly top the list in terms of your hospital’s primary mission – to provide safe, quality care to the communities you serve - and should be reviewed as additional support in impacting these important value drivers as well.
Have you overlooked an important technology in RTLS that can impact quality of care and patient safety? Perhaps it’s time to take another look as you review the top ten health technology threats to patient safety.
~ Valerie Fritz