Wake Forest Baptist Health is a prominent academic medical system known for innovation and the delivery of quality care, along with a reputation for distinguished medical research.
This reputation drives the health system to continually seek new and more efficient ways to deliver care to the more than 1 million patients who visit the organization each year. And on its agenda? The use of real-time technologies such as real-time location systems.
So Wake Forest turned to vendor Infinite Leap for RTLS technology. First up: The management of mobile medical equipment.
“This initial focus was largely driven by the biomedical engineering function within the hospital, and focused on tracking the movement and location of mobile assets,” said Conrad Emmerich, senior vice president of business services at Wake Forest Baptist Health. “However, after only two years the project stalled. The RTLS system was technically working properly, but hadn’t been installed in a manner that allowed us to achieve all the value we desired.”
This is when Wake Forest made a strategic decision to rethink its approach and take a comprehensive look at what could be accomplished with RTLS across the entire health system.
“With the help of Infinite Leap, we were able to define a five-year roadmap supported by financial models, resourcing plans, deployment expectations, cash-flow expectations and ROI forecasts,” Emmerich said. “This comprehensive RTLS solution design provided us with the confidence that this second attempt at using real-time technologies would be much different than the first.”
“RTLS helps us understand the true asset utilization of our medical equipment and make sound business decisions, such as reallocating equipment if the asset type is not being utilized at the desired level.”
Conrad Emmerich, Wake Forest Baptist Health
To keep the overall goals and strategic vision top of mind and convey the reality that the RTLS technology was directed toward solving strategic and important objectives of the health system, Wake Forest branded the program “SPOT.”
The name was chosen as an acronym for the focus areas that were identified as driving the health system’s progress and aligning with its overall organizational goals: S for service excellence, P for patient safety and satisfaction, O for operational excellence and efficiency, and T for transformed healthcare delivery.
There are many vendors of real-time location system technology on the market today, such as Awarepoint, GE Healthcare, Hewlett-Packard, Midmark, Mojix, Siemens, Skytron, Stanley Healthcare, Versus Technologies and Zebra Manufacturing Solutions.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Currently, the SPOT program encompasses more than 4 million square feet across more than 40 buildings with RTLS coverage. Wake Forest has more than 17,000 pieces of medical equipment tracked in real time, which provides an efficient and accurate way for staff to easily locate mobile equipment that is available to use, without wasting time searching for it in supply closets, patient rooms and hallways, Emmerich explained.
“RTLS also helps us understand the true asset utilization of our medical equipment and make sound business decisions, such as reallocating equipment if the asset type is not being utilized at the desired level, or approving/denying the new equipment purchase order,” he added.
Wake Forest also has deployed an automated temperature monitoring system for more than 1,100 refrigerators and other temperature-controlled equipment or locations, which store vaccines, insulins, blood and other medical products. This condition-sensing system provides staff with vital alerts, compliance tracking and resolution details in a reliable and up-to-date manner, he said.
“We also are using RTLS to provide an instant way for our staff to request help when in distress situations and for our response team to know exactly where they need to provide help,” said Emmerich. “Currently, more than 8,000 of our staff wear SPOT badges. We hear that many of our new team members choose to work here because of our dedication to a safe work environment.”
Wake Forest also uses real-time technologies to enhance the patient experience. Today, approximately 2,000 patients each day receive a CarePass when they are checked in for an outpatient visit or admitted as an inpatient. The CarePasses enable automated updates to patients regarding their wait times and place in queue, automated text notifications to family members as their loved ones make their way through surgery or a procedure, and also automate workflow and provide key metrics, such as the total wait time per patient, the contact time with the provider, and room and staff utilization.
“These all result in well-informed patients, family members and staff, which leads to higher patient/staff satisfaction and streamlined workflow,” Emmerich said.
In the area of asset management, Wake Forest has been able to save more than $3.5 million by avoiding equipment purchases and reducing rental expenses – all because of increased assets visibility and process changes, which allows staff to effectively distribute assets across the organization and to utilize the organization’s own fleet to its fullest potential.
“In addition, our staff doesn’t need to search for the equipment they need to provide patient care,” Emmerich said. “This enabled us to convert thousands of ‘non-value-added’ hours toward patient care. I know that might seem unreal, but in hospitals where staff does not have visibility into the location and status of medical equipment, they might spend 1-2 hours per shift just looking for equipment they need. And that is a waste of their valuable time.”
The RTLS technology also is positively impacting the health system’s patient experience and staff efficiency. With real-time visibility into patient location and status, staff can be proactive in managing patient flow. Through the use of RTLS, Wake Forest has reduced wait times by up to 50 percent, which makes patients happier and waiting rooms less congested, Emmerich explained.
“Another example of the value of the RTLS system is automation of our temperature monitoring,” he added. “Some health systems are afraid of automating a process like temperature monitoring. However, they need to realize that their current process is probably like our old one, which was inconsistent and time-consuming, and could potentially lead to jeopardizing patient safety if the temperature of the unit went beyond a safe threshold.”
With its automated system, Wake Forest now saves more than 10,000 staff hours annually, which translates to more than $300,000 per year – just in the reduction of non-value-add time, Emmerich stated.
“And if you factor in potential spoilage of expensive vaccines or specimen samples, especially in a research-focused academic medical center like ours, implementing an automated system is simply a must-do,” he added.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“Work closely with RTLS subject matter experts,” Emmerich advised. “They can help you design your RTLS journey and provide you with clear expectations regarding the required investment and anticipated results.”
Another piece of advice is to think about RTLS as a strategic program, not just as a one-time project, he added.
“We are proud of what we accomplished in terms of financial ROI, enhanced patient experience and quality of care,” he said, “but I think we are still just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished with these innovative technologies.”
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