Texas Health Resources Alliance Embraces RTLS

9.12.13Real-Time Location System (RTLS) vendor, Intelligent InSites, recently hosted a webinar entitled “The Hospitality Environment – Improving the Patient Experience with Innovative Technology.” In this presentation, Kathi Cox, CPHIMS, Project Consultant at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance (Alliance), addressed her organization’s approach to adopting new technology. Focusing on Alliance’s RTLS project, Cox enlightened the audience with this relatively young facility’s approach to technology selection and lessons learned from which hospitals of all sizes can benefit.

Beware the “cool” technology!

There’s nothing wrong with new or exciting technology, but Cox cautioned the participants about selecting “cool for cool’s sake.” In the webinar, she outlined Alliance’s vision for technology that includes the following key guidelines:

  • Enhance the patient experience
  • Improve patient outcomes
  • Remove non-value-added tasks from clinicians so they have more bedside time
  • Leverage investments through integration
  • Improve employee efficiency

Cox noted that every technology decision doesn’t have to meet all these objectives but “at the end of the day, the technology has to fit in here somewhere.” She explained that all decisions are made within a multi-disciplinary group in which someone always raises the important question, “Where is this new technology going to benefit us?”

Be smart about choosing your vendor partners.

According to Cox, Alliance has a Partners Ecosystem that requires vendor partner candidates to commit to “playing in the same sandbox,” which includes a spirit of cooperation in working with competitors to help Alliance reach its goals. Intelligent InSites and CenTrak are two members of the Partners Ecosystem that were willing to make that commitment and subsequently selected as a standard partner – Intelligent InSites for RTLS software, business intelligence (BI) and integrations and CenTrak for RTLS hardware.

Lessons learned.

Cox pointed out that her team has not only learned a great deal in the course of this RTLS project, but they continue to learn more each day.

Test as you tag. Alliance reportedly made the mistake of tagging everything initially without sufficient testing. Cox explained that to be sure the system is working the way you want it to in order to protect against things like improperly activated tags and incorrectly labeled areas.

Temperature monitoring – don’t forget the policy. In the excitement of adding this capability, Cox stated that Alliance got the cart before the horse. They put all the tags and probes in place on the refrigerators and freezers in order to support temperature monitoring but failed to write a policy. She mentioned that because this functionality addresses Joint Commission requirements, it is especially important to develop policies and procedures that put “owners” in place before beginning the process of placing tags on refrigerators and freezers.

The project doesn’t end at “go live”.

Cox emphasized that incorporating an RTLS in a hospital environment must be an ongoing process that doesn’t end at “go live”, especially if there is a desire to maximize the system’s value and potential. She noted that the RTLS helped Alliance’s sister facility, 650-bed Texas Health Dallas, save $1M right off the bat in equipment rentals. Both facilities started with equipment tracking and Alliance has expanded its use cases (i.e., applications) to patient and staff tracking. They also incorporated temperature monitoring, which Cox cited as a major satisfier, especially in the clinical area, because it eliminated paper-based record keeping.

Alliance and its patients benefit in numerous ways from RTLS, according to Cox, who mentioned that the staff locator badges allow them to know very quickly which staff are in the building and where they are in an emergency situation. Vocera integration takes it to the next level by supporting communication to defined groups without broadcasting over the paging system. Data gathered by the RTLS is also reportedly impacting hospital workflows in the OR by measuring KPIs and streamlining processes.

Rely on employee input.

Cox noted that after getting over their initial concerns about wearing staff badges, staff members have really embraced the RTLS. She mentioned that in addition to input from nurses and biomed staff about which items to tag, the Alliance employees are a great source of creative ideas on using RTLS.

Share your lessons learned.

As a member of Texas Health Resources, a large multi-entity healthcare organization, Alliance has reaped benefits from its larger sister facility, Texas Health Dallas, which had already implemented the Intelligent InSites RTLS.

Cox stressed the importance of hospitals within a healthcare enterprise like THR sharing lessons learned with each other. Finding the right badge holder to accommodate the staff tag and name badge was one “growing pain” where Alliance benefited from lessons already learned by its sister facility. One way THR is incorporating this philosophy is by standardizing staff roles/types across all entities, which Cox explained allows them to more efficiently implement work flows at all hospitals and ensure that they are comparing apples to apples when analyzing the RTLS data.

In conjunction with the idea of knowledge sharing, Cox mentioned the importance of making no exceptions to staff wearing badges – at Alliance even their president and CEO wear badges, which helps promote facility-wide buy-in.

Take advantage of the data.

Cautioning against missing out on the potential benefits that ongoing analysis of system data affords, Cox stated: “Data is your friend and you will be amazed at what you can glean from your operations – improvements you can make, the things you thought would make a difference and really make no difference at all.” Alliance is well into a BI initiative with Intelligent InSites as a next step in maximizing the value of their RTLS and validating their ideas about the system’s potential.

My final take away…THR Alliance may be cautious about going for the “cool” technology, but their approach is definitely very cool – watch and learn!


Phyllis Carlin, BA
Phyllis Carlin, BA, IT Analyst — Ms. Carlin joined MD Buyline in 1995 with over 18 years of experience in the healthcare industry. As a specialist in IT software solutions at MD Buyline, Ms. Carlin has primary responsibility for several technologies, voice processing (e.g., dictation, transcription and CVR), real-time location systems, enterprise resource planning (e.g., financial, supply chain and human capital management), time and attendance, staff scheduling, financial decision support, bed/capacity management, food and nutrition management, interactive patient communication and home healthcare. Ms. Carlin graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Baylor University.