Industry Voices—Using 3D location to save money on lost medical equipment

The healthcare industry invests billions of dollars every year in new medical equipment. New health technologies can improve outcomes and patient satisfaction but tend to cost more than existing ones, so hospital administrators are very cautious about their investments.

At the same time, hospitals are under significant pressure to reduce costs throughout their operations. A key focus of this is recovering the thousands of pieces of medical equipment that are misplaced or go missing each year, which collectively can cost hospitals millions of dollars to replace. That's in addition to the employee hours spent on trying to locate the equipment across sprawling hospital campuses.

In some cases, not having ready access to the latest medical technology starts to negatively impact patient care, which puts this problem in a much more serious light.

Hospitals are trying new solutions

Hospitals have been looking at solutions to this problem for years, and have slowly started embracing technologies such as RFID tracking, which enables them to get a comprehensive view of their equipment inventories and understand where and how equipment is being used. However, these systems do have limitations. They can be expensive to deploy campus-wide, sometimes have issues with metallic equipment, and can lead to so-called "tag collision," where a reader picks up signals from multiple tags. Alternatives exist but are limited to identifying the horizontal location, which doesn’t help in a high-rise hospital where finding equipment on a specific floor is a must-have.

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3D location offers new solutions

The introduction of high-accuracy 3D mobile location provides healthcare facilities with a mechanism to locate and track high-value equipment in a timely manner, which improves patient care and keeps costs down. There are a variety of approaches to measuring 3D location, but the most efficient for this application are software-based hybrid "over-the-top" solutions, which enable any device on any wireless network.

In brief, this positioning technique builds on top of device-based capabilities, such as those offered by iOS or Android, and adds measurements such as barometric pressure, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, combining all the available information in an intelligent and robust way. This approach has several advantages in that it improves the horizontal (x,y) accuracy, important for widely dispersed hospital campuses and provides a reliable floor-level vertical estimate, which is vital for city-center high-rise hospitals.

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The deployment of this technology is simple and generally involves the integration of a software development kit (SDK) into any application that requires real-time location information, making this a readily accessible and easy-to-deploy option for hospital administrators.

With the introduction of 3D location equipment tracking, hospitals would attach affordable and unobtrusive sensors-based devices with 3D location capability onto medical equipment which they want to track. This will enable the hospital administrator to accurately track and monitor medical equipment in real time, including the floor number, throughout a medical complex.  

The administrator can create geofences to trigger an alert whenever the equipment leaves a particular floor and/or travels outside the hospital perimeter. By equipping this tracking capability with high-accuracy 3D location, the hospital administrator is able to have a real-time view of medical equipment throughout the hospital, avoiding costly losses, increasing operational efficiency and, most importantly, providing optimal and timely patient care.

Amir Sattar is the senior vice president of operations at Polaris Wireless with over 25 years of combined experience in R&D, operations and customer management in the wireless industry.