Sharp HealthCare’s Chula Vista Medical Center trial of a real-time location system patient tracking program is improving the hospital’s patient management.

RTLS, originally used by Chula Vista for asset tracking, was expanded to apply to patients, according to Deanna White, R.N., the hospital’s director of acute care and lead in the system’s implementation.  Each patient is assigned a numbered tag with a barcode, which is scanned and connected to software. Infrared technology and beacons in the hospital pick up the tracker’s signal (pictured right) and immediately update the software.Centrack Tracking Device

The main benefit of the system is in expediting patient throughput and bed turnover. As soon as a patient is discharged, the tag is removed and placed in a special drop box, which pages housekeeping to clean the room. Previously, housekeeping was notified manually. The automated system has decreased the time it takes to get a patient to a room from admit order to occupy by 191 minutes.

“It’s been working really well. We’re finding more beds available. That’s how we get revenue,” White says. She estimates that there are only a handful of hospitals testing this newer technology.

The RTLS also locates a patient who is out of his room undergoing a test or because he has wandered off.

The program has met with little opposition.

“Originally, we thought patients may not like having another armband, but we learned they appreciate the benefits of it so they don’t mind wearing it,” she says.

Sharp plans in the near future to review the program to determine whether and how it should be rolled out across the six-hospital system.

For instance, one unexpected challenge has been the loss of the tracking tags, which are reusable.

“Sometimes nurses forget to cut the tags off when the patient is discharged,” says White. If Sharp opts to continue, it may turn to disposable tags, she notes.

Still, that may be a minor annoyance.

“Trying to eliminate delays and improve efficiencies with technology and automated processes is wise,” White says.

“Today there are 12 patients in the emergency room waiting for a bed, so we need to be efficient,” she says.