How an RTLS System Helps Discover and Eliminate Accidental Workflows

This month, our featured RTLS in Healthcare Community member is Kevin Stoner, IT Project Manager at Sparrow Health Systems in Lansing, MI.

Infinite Leap: Kevin, can you share with us your journey with Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS)?

Kevin Stoner: My journey with RTLS started about 10 years ago. I was working as the RTLS implementation manager coordinating RTLS implementations at multiple locations in Michigan for our client – Veteran Health Administration. In my current role, as the IT Project Manager at Sparrow Health Systems, I oversee the RTLS system our hospital uses for asset tracking.

Infinite Leap: Can you share some of your first experiences while working as the RTLS implementation manager?

Kevin Stoner: Throughout my career in healthcare IT, I worked on many IT projects, and RTLS implementation was the first project that stretched my skills in terms of the need for close collaboration with almost every department in the hospital. It was no longer an IT guy working on deploying a departmental solution; it was truly a hospital-wide effort. I worked with the hospital administrator who facilitated conversations with clinical teams, I worked with the warehousing staff to coordinate proper commissioning and decommissioning of mobile medical equipment (which had location tags), and I worked with the Bio-Med team, which was responsible for replacing batteries in RTLS tags. Because equipment constantly moves from area to area, an RTLS system touches almost every area of the hospital, and you have to be ready to manage it from an enterprise-wide perspective.

Infinite Leap: Were there any surprises as you progressed through the RTLS implementation?

Kevin Stoner: Yes, there were many, but the biggest one was discovering what I would call “accidental workflows.” For example, it turned out that bladder scanners were kept in a special area so they were easier to find when needed, but this area was not where they were supposed to be placed, which inadvertently altered the official workflow process. As we were walking the floors of the hospital with the hospital management, we were able to identify and address on the spot any deviations from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). The best part of it was being able to tell nurses that they will no longer need to stash equipment, because with the RTLS system they will be able to see exactly where the equipment they need is located.

Infinite Leap: Yes, we discover many process workarounds as we work with our clients; they’re all done with good intentions, but seldom address core problems. What do you find to be the biggest challenge as the system is implemented?

Kevin Stoner: I think the biggest challenge, which is often overlooked initially, is having a solid execution plan on how to keep the system fully functional. For example, maps used within RTLS software are up-to-date on day one, but we all know how quickly they get outdated – hospital areas are being renovated and repurposed all the time, so if you don’t apply changes to RTLS maps as these facility changes occur, you will soon end up with a system that doesn’t have correct information staff can rely on.

Infinite Leap: We believe it’s critical to define a process to obtain this information, and a resource who will actually apply these changes to keep the system in order. We also find that once the system is live and the initial staff training is done, hospitals don’t think through how to educate new employees on how to use the system. What do you do in your organization to avoid this issue?

Kevin Stoner: Our solution is simple – we incorporated RTLS training into our Learning Management Systems, so all new employees must go through an online training and confirm their understanding by taking a quiz. We also supplement with hands-on training by a staff member who works with new team members.

Infinite Leap: Training definitely helps to keep system adoption high. Can you share some advice for hospitals just starting with RTLS?

Kevin Stoner: Don’t think that an RTLS system is a magical tool that will solve all your problems. Your team needs to fully understand its capabilities and limitations so you’re not surprised later.

Infinite Leap: This is valid advice and it is why we are being engaged by healthcare systems to help them formulate their needs, and to evaluate if their wish list can be turned into reality.

Kevin Stoner: Yes, and you should not be negative about it, just realistic.

Infinite Leap: Kevin, in closing, as we are building our Community, can you please share with us some of your personal interests?

Kevin Stoner: Since I was very young, I enjoyed taking things apart and putting them together to make them even better, so working with sensory technologies is a perfect environment for me. I enjoy making our hospital “smarter.” As I am a big fan of a “smart environment” concept, I am also always adding smart solutions to my own home, such as smart lights, temperature sensors, and other cool devices that make our daily living easier.

Infinite Leap: Kevin, thank you for sharing your RTLS experiences with our community – it was a pleasure getting to know you.

If you would like to share your thoughts and best practices on RTLS, drop me a note – I’d love to chat with you to capture your experiences: