The healthcare sector has been under constant pressure to reduce costs, increase staff productivity, prevent errors, and maximize equipment usage.
During the Covid-19 crisis, these needs have become even more pressing. There may not be enough hospital beds or equipment for all the patients. Many hospitals may already be understaffed. And that problem becomes even more acute when staff members are absent due to contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Workload then increases for remaining staff. And with the tougher workload comes exhaustion and greater likelihood that worker health suffers. Another challenge is that any time the staff spends on looking for equipment is time not used to treat patients. Time use is critical during the pandemic
Maximizing equipment use, keeping the staff healthy, and preventing in-hospital transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are crucial. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time location systems (RTLS) come in, with the ability to connect and manage devices in healthcare facilities.Real-time location systems (RTLS) are part of the IoT. RTLS tag equipment or individuals, enabling location data to be transmitted to a centralized server via Wi-Fi or Ethernet for quick tracking of people or assets.
In addition to treating patients, healthcare workers spend considerable time tracking down equipment. Reducing equipment shortages According to one survey, nurses spend about one week per month, or 25% of their hours, looking for equipment and supplies. Using RTLS, nurses can quickly find the equipment and have more time for patient care.
Hospitals usually purchase extras as part of not always successful attempts to reduce the time staff spends looking for equipment and supplies. As a result, equipment under-utilization is perpetuated, keeping the equipment utilization rate at less than 50%.
With RTLS, however, previously hidden or misplaced equipment becomes visible and so can be utilized. Operational costs shrink as overspending on equipment decreases. Moreover, RTLS can help improve equipment performance. By monitoring the equipment condition with RTLS, administrators can help prevent unexpected equipment breakdown, which causes delays and lost work hours. Scheduling proactive maintenance, based on the data gathered during monitoring, becomes practical. RTLS can also track the current usage of equipment, supplies, and forecast future usage. Tracking and predicting usage enable hospitals to schedule stocking to keep the most often used items in stock while avoiding overstocking of equipment and supplies then I need less frequently.
Reducing staff shortages
RTLS can also be used to help staff work more efficiently when shorthanded.
Nurses perform many repetitive administrative tasks, such as measuring and manually recording the patient’s weight, temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen levels. Mistakes in data entry often lead to problems or delays down the line. RTLS can help automate data entry, such as recording blood pressure, temperatures, or the time of medication with a machine-to-machine process, to reduce mistakes and save time for the staff simultaneously.
Beyond connecting assets and personnel to the central database, RTLS can connect, for example, doors and beds to the caregivers. Tagged doors can be programmed to open, and elevators can be programmed to stop as staff or hospital beds approach, cutting the time spent on transport.
An important application of RTLS is that of tracking staff as they go about their duties.
Healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) occur in hospitals, putting staff and patients at risk. Once a patient or healthcare worker is diagnosed with a HAI, it is crucial to quarantine the infected person and do contact tracing to find any individuals who have been exposed.
The hospital needs to know who was exposed and when and where the exposure occurred. Identifying potentially exposed people is possible with RTLS tagging of staff and equipment.
Sanitizing rooms and equipment
With RTLS, the hospital can also identify the pieces of equipment that have been exposed to infected person(s) and sanitize them accordingly.In addition, RTLS can help keep operating rooms sterile and safe. After every surgical procedure, the operating room needs to be cleaned and restocked for the next procedure. The improper sanitization of instruments and devices can lead to dire consequences. RTLS can ensure every tagged piece of equipment is appropriately sterilized. Moreover, RTLS can track and control the operating room’s temperature and humidity level, which have a significant impact on bacterial growth.
Lastly, hand washing is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce infection. By tagging soap dispensers, RTLS can be used to track how often personnel are washing their hands. This strategy has been proven effective in reducing healthcare-associated infections in hospitals in California.
Touchless technology to reduce viral transmission
Also crucial for reducing viral transmission are touchless technology and the advances that have made telemedicine possible.
In recent years, bots have been developed to perform repetitive, tedious, and dangerous tasks. In the healthcare sector, bots can be used to clean the bathrooms used by infected patients to reduce the janitorial staff’s risk of viral infection. Also, chatbots can obtain basic information from patients to reduce patient wait time and the effort staff spends on administrative tasks.
Telemedicine or telehealth creates a way to cut down on the risk to both patients and staff that in-person patient care causes. It becomes possible for patients to avoid the risk of becoming infected while at the same time healthcare workers can see fewer patients face-to-face to reduce the risk of exposure.
The explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT) has been less visible in the healthcare sector than elsewhere. However, the pandemic will likely accelerate the use of IoT, bringing relief to overworked and exhausted medical staff and helping sustain the healthcare infrastructure.
The practices of RTLS in areas such as tracking equipment, staff, and automation to reduce infection and increase sanitization will continue beyond the pandemic. In the future, new innovations such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and healthcare security will gradually be added to the practices in health care. Conclusion
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