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There are thousands, if not millions, of assets inside healthcare facilities. From the wheelchairs used to transport patients to the patients themselves, knowing where to quickly locate these assets is vital, especially in an emergent situation.  

With the evolution of Bluetooth® technology, it’s now possible for healthcare facilities to easily and accurately locate needed items and keep track of their charges, all while ensuring no interruptions to care.  

Bluetooth technology isn’t just used to connect your phone to your car or wearable; instead, it’s now being used to create smart buildings through location services and device networks.  

“Asset tracking, access control, network lighting control, automation solutions...these are maybe lesser-known, but are our fastest-growing solution areas for where this technology will be used in the future,” said Chuck Sabin, senior director of market development at Bluetooth SIG, during a recent segment of The Pulse by HealthSpaces.  

Sabin – joined by Kapil Asher, director of enterprise healthcare IoT solutions for Kontakt.io, and Erik Devine, chief information security officer at Riverside Healthcare – discussed the recent implementation of such services by Riverside Healthcare’s facilities and how the technology has transformed the healthcare provider’s operations.  

The Evolution of Bluetooth® Technology

With more than 6.4 billion annual shipments expected by 2025, Bluetooth technology continues to see steady market growth. While the technology is the go-to for things like wearables, it is ultimately transitioning to a broader usage for healthcare solutions.  

With the addition of Bluetooth LE, or low energy, the company was able to design specifically for cutting wires and growth.  

“The market needed a technology that allowed for lower power applications, and had the flexibility to satisfy the varying needs of the growing IoT." Sabin said.  

Enabling patient monitoring, occupancy management, and health screenings are just a few ways in which Bluetooth LE technology is making a difference in healthcare settings.  

“This is really setting the tone for how patient services are going to be deployed in the context of smart buildings and keeping people safe, including managing regulations that are coming down related to use of space. This is technology that will help manage those types of scenarios,” Sabin said. “These are resources that companies need.”

Making a Connection  

Kontakt.io is a Bluetooth SIG member company working with the technology to enable connectivity in healthcare settings. The indoor location services platform company creates sensors and tags that provide specification data to customers, including those in the healthcare market.  

“We have 3.5 million beacons out in the world,” Asher said. “In various capacities, we’re in more than 15 hospitals in the U.S. and close to 100 globally.”  

Kontakt.io provides solutions to challenges such as staff productivity, searchability of assets, inefficient patient workflow, staff abuse mitigation, and environmental condition monitoring.  

Utilizing a cloud-based open system, Asher said Kontakt.io is able to reach more healthcare providers and offer an unlimited number of solutions for customers without having to worry that their sensors or systems won’t communicate with each other in the future.  

“We are not just a real-time location sensing company; we are an IoT company,” he said. “Using Bluetooth, our opportunities are unlimited. Our gateways are able to communicate with other Bluetooth sensors on the market and we can extract data to create systems in a cost-effective manner.”  

A Practical Study  

Riverside Healthcare was looking for such a system to tackle the challenges of asset tracking and maintenance and patient safety when they found Kontakt.io.  

“Our initial motivation was patient elopement,” Devine said. “Patients were leaving either on purpose or by accident. They would get up to get a drink or look for someone, and we needed a system to augment the nurses' abilities. Patient safety drives everything we do; it's a huge endeavor.”  

Riverside Healthcare then began to think about how it could utilize real-time locating services to find patients when they aren’t where they are supposed to be. Additionally, Devine said the company was looking for ways to streamline preventative maintenance and locating vital medical devices at their facilities.  

“Knowing clinical engineering, how can we augment staff to get preventative maintenance done on time, and how can we manage our 10,000 devices,” he said. “It went from that to how can a nurse or clinician find that device – how do you eliminate the time it takes to find a device so that a patient isn’t missing out on care.”  

And so, earlier this year, Kontakt.io provided the company with sensors to create a core RTLS system in about a month.  

“It was a very simple process,” Devine said. “We are at about 2,500 assets." 

Under the system, there is a gateway at each door of a Riverside facility. When an asset, such as a wheelchair, passes through that gateway it’s recorded, and staff will know it isn’t in the hospital but in a clinic.

“This way they don’t waste time looking for that item,” Devine said. “From an efficiency standpoint, we’re not paying someone to find stuff. It’s incredible how much time is being saved.”  

In fact, the company was able to repurpose a full-time position, moving the staff member tasked with tracking down items for preventative maintenance to a new position.  

With assets tagged and tracking in full swing, Devine said the organization is now focusing on patient elopement and access to improve both safety and satisfaction.  

“That is big in hospitals,” he said. “I think a lot of patient and clinician workflow will be gathered there to help families and staff.”  

In one example, Devine believes that the system could be used to ensure patients are seen in a timely manner. If a patient visits a clinic, they can be given a badge that notifies clinicians of their location and how long they have waited.  

“It should be a very quick flow, and improve patient satisfaction and safety,” he said.  

With Riverside’s RTLS now operational, Sabin believes other providers will soon follow.  

“We'll see hundreds of thousands of RTLS deployed in the healthcare field. It's because of the types of benefits that Riverside saw. You'll see deployments faster and faster,” he said.  

Ashlee Kieler

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Ashlee Kieler is an experienced multimedia journalist based in Iowa. She is passionate about telling stories about healthcare, education, retail and a smorgasbord of other topics.

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