Preventing Infectious Disease Using RTLS to Track Equipment

Healthcare professionals are dealing with unparalleled challenges, as they work tirelessly to treat, contain and prevent infection by novel coronavirus COVID-19. Hospitals, healthcare facilities and nursing homes are the centers where extraordinary efforts are being made to save lives.

In this new and rapidly changing outbreak environment, hospitals are tasked with meeting the critical needs of an overwhelming influx of patients, while mitigating exposure to the highly infectious disease so that staff and other patients do not become infected with the virus.

One option for reducing exposure to COVID-19 and increasing patient and staff safety can be through a robust hospital management system and real-time location system (RTLS). Patients, staff, and equipment are tracked using active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to provide real-time visibility, as well as location history.

Insights into staff and patient flow offer the capability to follow the path of individuals through the facility to determine contact tracing, and offer physical distancing and portal threshold alarms. In addition, an active RTLS RFID system that is used to tag equipment assets also provides health facilities with a range of functions to prevent the spread of coronavirus. These benefits include capacity management, prevention of theft and loss, contact tracing, and infection prevention.

Equipment Visibility in an Outbreak

Mass patient surges can quickly overwhelm a hospital’s capacity. With an RTLS system in place, it’s possible to have visibility on the availability of critical medical care equipment used to treat COVID-19, such as ventilators, infusion pumps, BiPAP/CPAP machines, CVVH/CRRT dialysis machines, isolation carts, and heart monitors.

Knowing the quantities, status, and use of life-saving equipment enables staff to plan for infected patient surges, and allocate assets where the need is most urgent. One of the steps hospitals are taking to free up capacity is to move patients to other floors by converting standard floors to intensive care units, and building ‘pop-up’ hospitals in hotels or other facilities.

When critical equipment is tagged with an RTLS system, it helps healthcare providers to quickly locate these assets to within 8 to 10 feet of accuracy, complete with floor-level discrimination. The RTLS system also enables tracking of equipment offsite to critical care field hospitals, so that assets can be located later for their eventual return.

In times of crisis, there are bad actors who would take advantage of the chaos and disrupted systems. Fortunately, theft of expensive, life-preserving equipment is prevented by the application of discrete RTLS tags. These devices are used to pinpoint the assets’ long-range location, sound an alarm when crossing an egress point, or trigger the lockdown of exit doors in a facility.

In a pandemic outbreak, there are other advantages to determining the status of equipment assets. For stressed and exhausted healthcare staff, being able to gain an accurate, bird’s eye view of the availability of equipment reduces the anxiety associated with perceived shortages.

Contact Tracing to Identify Infection Routes

During an outbreak, contact tracing is one of the many tools used to combat communicable disease. An RTLS solution allows healthcare facilities to identify and follow the path patients, staff, and equipment have taken, to determine any possible contact with a contagion.

In terms of equipment tracking, a report can be created to show which patients have used the equipment. This data gives staff the ability to act rapidly to trace and contain the spread of disease by notifying, testing, and treating exposed staff or patients. Further, the system can alert healthcare staff to prevent the medical equipment and rooms from being used again until  special disinfecting or cleaning has been completed.

Using Data to Prevent Infection

While health care professionals are in crisis mode at the present, in the months and years to come there will be time to analyze and study the data from RTLS systems used to track equipment during the outbreak. There will be opportunities to make once-invisible interactions and transmission of the virus visible, to offer greater understanding of this specific virus, and to provide lessons learned for future threats.

Now, and in the coming years, RTLS systems should be used as an active part of ongoing surveillance, and improving policies and preparedness for the prevention of the spread of infectious diseases.

Book a demo to learn more about using RTLS to control the spread of infectious diseases in the workplace.