How RTLS Can Enhance the Patient and Staff Experience During Staffing Shortages

By Scott Hondros, MHA, SCPM, CenTrak
Twitter: @CenTrak

As the pandemic has progressed over the last two years, the healthcare industry has witnessed a staffing shortage caused by burnout, violence, and an overall lack of clinical and operational resources. Support and retention of healthcare staff is crucial, especially as the turnover rate for registered nurses increased by 8.4-percent in 2021, resulting in a national average of 27.1-percent. Meanwhile, the average cost of turnover for a registered nurse in 2021 was $46,100. Staffing shortages are continuing to impact the entire healthcare sector and forcing hospitals to limit the patients they are able to provide care for.

While communities praise nurses as heroes for their work on the front lines during COVID, their safety has been put on the backburner. According to The Joint Commission, reducing workplace violence and burnout can improve patient care and decrease psychological distress, job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, high turnover, and higher costs. A safe workplace should be the norm, not the exception. Caregivers and healthcare staff are invaluable to patients, healthcare facilities, and communities at large. True support for these frontline workers translates into more time, truly focused on patient care, providing both a fulfilling career and positive patient experience. As staffing shortages, workplace violence, and supply chain challenges continue, healthcare leadership and their respective organizations must consider new approaches to better support staff or implement tangible additions to existing solutions.

Real-time location systems (RTLS) are proven to provide cost-effective solutions that enhance safety and ease operational burdens for staff. The technology behind RTLS features active-radio frequency identification (RFID) location-enabled badges and tags to reliably and securely provide hospital staff insight on exactly where they can locate the right equipment, colleague, or patient, increasing workflow efficiencies at a time when healthcare professionals need all hands on deck.

Staff Duress Alerting – Invest in the Safety of Your Staff

Healthcare professionals are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than employees in any other field. Violence against healthcare staff is not new; however, since the start of the pandemic, violence has surged. Some hospitals have experienced more than a 50-percent increase in dangerous incidents. An IoT-enabled RTLS safety solution provides a reliable and real-time duress alerting system that prevents threats from escalating into violent situations by arming healthcare professionals with the ability to discreetly send panic alerts to the security team and their colleagues from an easily accessible button on their wearable badge.

Once pressed, the badge immediately communicates the location of the staff member to a computer workstation, in-unit monitor, and security dispatcher, as well as by email, SMS alert, or VoIP phone message. The duress solution also integrates with traditional security systems, video management systems, access control and mass notification systems, and various third-party applications. For top solution providers, staff duress offerings are simple add-ons to existing automated nurse call systems.

The alert immediately and accurately communicates the exact location of the staff member, ensuring the closest security personnel responds in a timely manner while providing peace of mind and error-free emergency response for healthcare professionals. Increasing emergency response times prevents staff injury, and not only creates a safer environment for staff but also reduces the number of lost workdays which would put further strain on the health system. Organizations that have implemented an RTLS duress solution have seen increased employee satisfaction scores, while leadership typically receives very positive responses from staff following successful implementation.

Asset Management Benefits Everyone

One-third of nurses report spending an hour or more hunting for equipment during an average shift. This effort translates into thousands of hours per month for an average size hospital spent searching for life-saving equipment instead of providing critical patient care. By implementing RTLS, nursing and other medical staff can locate equipment within minutes using IoT-enabled tags – saving precious time, reducing stress, and ensuring patients receive timely care.

RTLS offers real-time room and bay-level map views and lists locations of medical equipment, detailed equipment usage, and provides alerts for equipment maintenance, facility exits, and cleaning. Facilities can ensure mobile medical equipment (MME) are always readily available by automating Periodic Automatic Replenishment (PAR)-level inventory management. Some RTLS software solutions offer a convenient mobile app to further reduce frustrations and provide caregivers visibility into the status of their equipment or service requests and offer robust reporting tools. Administrators can identify inefficient workflows and inventory utilization by using the system’s backend to monitor PAR levels. This can be an important tool in reducing stressors as healthcare facilities experience ongoing supply chain challenges.

Hospitals have experienced thousands of hours reallocated back to patient care, significant reductions in annual capital asset purchase requests, increased equipment supply data accuracy, increased staff satisfaction, and quantifiable documented savings following the deployment of RTLS asset monitoring. At Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, the use of RTLS asset management provides an annual savings of ~$2 million. An investment in a solution such as real-time asset management allows facilities to improve the patient experience, better support their healthcare professionals, and reduce costs.

Automation Increases Efficiency

The growing workplace violence and staffing shortages remain primary concerns and driving forces for many RTLS installations. Facilities seek to support and enable healthcare professionals to operate at the top of their licenses and reallocate time to patient care. When RTLS solutions are properly implemented, it enables healthcare organizations to analyze data to find opportunities for improvement, such as shortening patient wait time, reducing bottlenecks, and increasing hand-hygiene compliance, as well as automating workflows, like biomed reprocessing and nurse call response.

By automating clinical workflow, caregivers gain more time back with their patients, while eliminating non-value-added tasks like manually documenting supply fridge temperatures or searching for an infusion pump. With the integration of RTLS into electronic health records, providers do not need to ask where patients are in the care journey, search, or wait for status updates to be manually entered. If an end-to-end clinical workflow solution is implemented, healthcare facilities gain the necessary locating infrastructure, a variety of purpose-built asset tags, patient and staff badges, easy-to-use software tools for real-time map views, reports, and alerts, as well as expert clinical and operational consulting services to ensure the system is fully leveraged to reach facility goals.

The typical healthcare encounter consists of many clinical milestones. Automating these events alleviates the burden of manual documentation, which can lead to human error and inaccurate communications. Providing accurate real-time information regarding the patient location, phase of care status, and departmental work queues offers enhanced visibility to the entire care team as well as actionable data for analysis. These process improvements increase the satisfaction of the patient, their families, and staff, all while keeping the facility running efficiently.

Finding the Right RTLS Fit to Ensure ROI

Many organizations have a desire for a single application when they first explore RTLS. However, as the team experiences the technology and associated benefits, many leaders have a desire to implement additional use cases. Selecting an RTLS partner with a comprehensive suite of solutions makes it easier to expand into other use cases and departments in the future. The most advanced RTLS deploy clinical-grade visibility as well as provide capabilities such as nurse call automation, asset management, environmental temperature monitoring, automated hand hygiene monitoring, and digital wayfinding using easy-to-implement technology.

In addition to a comprehensive suite of solutions, healthcare facilities should look to truly partner with a vendor who will explore the organization’s strategic objectives and pain points and deliver a 3-to-5-year implementation plan with associated ROI projections and necessary operational resourcing. Through practical guidance, healthcare facilities can maximize real-time technologies and drive meaningful change throughout their enterprise. After a comprehensive and collaborative review of current processes, an advanced RTLS partner will offer recommendations on ways to increase efficiency and reduce operating costs using a thoughtful application of the real-time locating solution.