The goals of any healthcare technology should be to improve healthcare quality and patient safety, contain or reduce healthcare costs, mitigate risk exposures, and enhance user revenues. Relatively few technologies score high in meeting all of these objectives, but Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) are clearly one that does.
Hospital Cost Containment
Application priorities change over time. Two decades ago, quality improvement would have been the top goal. Today, however, hospital cost containment reigns supreme.
The cost containment priority is being driven primarily by healthcare reform efforts in both the public and private sectors. While no compelling strategy for attacking this problem has yet emerged, government in particular has simply decided to pay the same, or less, than what it paid for the same services yesterday.
This “pass the buck” strategy is placing hospitals in increasing financial jeopardy, especially where hospital financial margins are already razor-thin. This in turn has raised the ante on identifying significant improvements in operational efficiency and resulting cost savings.
Improving Hospital Operational Efficiency
From my past perch atop The Joint Commission, it seemed to me that improving operational efficiency was simply not a high priority among hospital leaders. Some years later, I am now firmly convinced that the problem is not a lack of will but rather a lack of knowledge and practical know-how. Most CEOs, except the distinct minority who are aggressively and successfully pursuing Lean improvement initiatives, simply do not know where to start.
I used to tell my managers that when faced with a complex, encompassing problem, they should start in the middle and work to the edges. The RTLS solution offers such an opportunity both by virtue of its asset tracking capabilities and because of its patient flow and care process monitoring abilities.
The asset tracking success story is well-established and has previously been recounted in this space. Suffice to say, the Awarepoint system pays for itself within the first 1-2 years and then provides continuing savings over time. The magnitude of these savings will not necessarily save a hospital from financial ruin, but it does provide a significant contribution to the survival side of the equation. By contrast, the care process improvement opportunity and its associated efficiencies are potentially huge.
RTLS Monitors Processes
The fully deployed RTLS system—with tags on patients, priority assets, and staff--has the capacity to codify and monitor each step in critical processes in intense clinical care areas such as the operating room (OR) and the emergency department (ED). The monitoring software continuously generates data which immediately identify “places to start” in the organization’s efficiency improvement work.
RTLS Data Identifies Bottlenecks
The process monitoring data frequently identifies process bottlenecks as well as clues as to how these bottlenecks may be resolved. The data will also often identify “no-value-added” steps which may number a third or more of the steps in a given process. The resulting opportunities for staff right-sizing and improved organizational efficiency should be readily apparent.
RTLS Allows Data Comparison
Finally, where a hospital is part of a system or consortium, the potential exists to compare data for given processes across hospitals and identify best practices which can then be widely shared. What started as an ED or OR efficiency improvement project can easily be spread to other hospital nerve centers such as the intensive care unit (ICU), radiology, and the cardiac catheterization lab, among others. In sum, the RTLS opportunity for improving efficiency and reducing costs is limited only by one’s imagination.
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