by Mary Jagim RN, MSN, CEN, FAEN | CNO at Infinite Leap
Using Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) to improve the flow of patients through a healthcare process is proving to be very valuable. An RTLS-based patient flow solution allows caregivers to understand, in real time, where patients physically are as well as providing information as to their progress and status in the workflow. The resulting information is valuable insight that allows care providers to know how they can best make changes that will improve the workflow processes. These changes show demonstrable value such as decreased patient wait times, length of stay (LOS), and fewer diversions.
One of the great challenges with an RTLS-enabled patient flow solution, is the financial cost that occurs when patients do not properly return the RTLS badge at the point of discharge.
Having deployed dozens of these solutions over the last 10 years, we’ve learned what seems to work best in helping getting the badges returned.
1. Educate the patient at the point of check-in about how the badge assists them in getting better care and how important it is to return the RTLS badge at the end of their visit.
2. Train staff to ask for the patient badge during the discharge process or another specific phase of the patient’s stay.
3. Attach stickers on RTLS badges to indicate they are property of the healthcare facility and how to return them if they accidentally make their way home with the patient. Most people want to do the right thing, make it easy for them to do so.
4. Place collection points at all patient exits to give them an opportunity to return a locating badge, if it was not collected by a staff member. Post appropriate signage, preferably with images that will be easy to understand (as opposed to a text heavy message) near the drop box to draw attention to and quickly explain the box’s purpose.
5. Set the RTLS badges to “notify” the patient in some manner when the badge leaves a pre-defined area of the facility. This could be an audible alarm on the badge itself (if equipped) or even a light or alarm at the point of exit. This will serve as a “last chance” reminder for a patient to return the badge.
6. Reach out to patients who have accidentally left with a badge by sending them a pre-paid envelope to make returning the badge quick and easy. Pre and post mailing phone calls can also ensure that patients don’t forget. (some clients have even offered a “Free Coffee” from the hospital Barista the next time they come in).
7. Establish clear criteria around what type of patients are important to be included in the badging program. For example, outpatients that are only picking up a prescription might not produce valuable workflow data, and you may choose to exclude them from receiving a RTLS badge.
These are only a few of the dozens of ideas that we’ve seen work. We’d be glad to discuss your specific situation if you are either concerned with a badge loss, or experiencing too much loss already. This can be solved! A great first step is to ask those that are involved, the patients themselves! Reach out, see what they think would be the most effective. If you want more ideas that have been tested and tried in other hospitals around the world, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or any of my colleagues here at Infinite Leap.