RFID and IoT in a smart hospital: benefits and challenges of smart patient tracking

Smart patient tracking is a bright example of how RFID and IoT help in the healthcare environment by assisting in improving services and, as a result, driving patient satisfaction. However, there is no innovation without its drawbacks.

In our new article, we focus on the benefits and challenges of patient tracking with RFID and IoT to help hospitals get a better idea of what to expect from it.

smart patient tracking

Smart patient tracking in a nutshell

Effective smart patient tracking systems are based on two core technologies: RFID and IoT. RFID enables the tracking itself, while IoT is used for data storing and analysis.

Upon arriving at the hospital, a patient is given a bracelet with an RFID tag. Each tag features relevant patient information: ID, name, electronic medical record, allergies, current condition, test results, recommended medications and so on. As a patient moves around the hospital, readers placed on the walls and ceilings within the hospital and its surrounding territory receive the information about tags location and transfer it to the IoT cloud for processing and analysis. The analysis may be performed in real time, for example, to detect emergencies, and with historical data (e.g. health records) to identify bottlenecks in internal hospital processes and, correspondingly, treatment.

Upon discharge, the tag is collected and further reassigned to another patient.

Benefits for hospitals

Tracking patients can help a hospital to establish better patient security, identify gaps in the services it provides and, in general, find the ways to improve internal processes, update doctors’ schedules and increase patient satisfaction.

Improved monitoring of patients’ location

Real-time visibility into each patient’s location is especially beneficial for elderly patients and patients with mental conditions. For example, aged patients or patients with some neurodegenerative diseases (for example, Alzheimer’s disease) may get lost in the hospital and wander about unable to find their way to the ward.

Improved real-time visibility into each patient’s location can bring many other benefits, for example:

  • Family members are directed quickly to a patient or informed when a patient will be free from a current appointment.
  • Nurses get better opportunities to monitor children patients (who, for example, may interact with their peers and forget about necessary appointments).
  • A housekeeping department is notified when all the patients have left the room, and it can be cleaned.

Driving patient safety

Smart tracking quickens the detection of incidents: for example, a patient walks down the stairs and falls. Analyzing the data about a patient’s movements and the abrupt change in them, an IoT system makes the conclusion about an incident and sends an alert to a nurse responsible.

If an emergency (for example, fire) happens in a certain ward, floor or department, hospital representatives can control that all the patients have left an endangered area and see that there are bedridden patients who need additional help with evacuation.

In the long run, analyzing the data about past incidents, a hospital may detect potentially dangerous areas (e.g., the stairs can be inconvenient, or it takes much time for some stairs to become dry after cleaning, and they are slippery) and take measures to prevent further incidents.

Better tracking of the treatment process

A patient may forget that it’s time to take medication, attend a doctor’s appointment, screening or a certain procedure. RFID tracking helps to pinpoint the exact location of any patient fast and remind of upcoming scheduled events. It can be the responsibility of a floor nurse. Otherwise, a patient may receive notification through a mobile app, or even an inbuilt alert function in a patient bracelet.

Enhancing internal schedules

As soon as the events connected to every patient (visited and planned appointments, movements from one department to another, and so on) are recorded in the patient tracking system, a hospital can better see into its overall load and the load of separate departments and doctors. This info gives a healthcare provider the opportunity to adjust staff workflows and patient treatment schedules to better use hospital facilities and time.

Assessing and predicting patient flow and hospital admission rates

Accumulated RFID data can help a healthcare organization in predicting patient flow. This data can be further used, for example, for planning in the long term how much medication and equipment to buy to make sure that they will be used and won’t idle.

Concerns in adopting smart patient tracking

To enable effective and secure patient tracking, it’s necessary to cover the following points characteristic to the RFID and IoT technology pack in general. They are cost-effective implementation and the prevention of tag collision (a reader needs and fails to differentiate a large number of tags at the same time).

However, it’s equally important to keep in mind and timely address possible obstacles and concerns specific for patient tracking.

Ethical issues of tracking people

From an ethical perspective, RFID and IoT tracking is rather controversial innovation. The arguments are that it touches on the issues of confidentiality and may interfere with patients’ privacy. To address this concern, a hospital should set up tracking by mutual agreement with patients. In some cases (for example, with the elderly or patients with mental conditions), all-the-time tracking should be agreed with a patient’s relatives and may even require signing a special contract.

Cybersecurity

Smart patient tracking implies dealing with private and vulnerable information (patient data, medical conditions, and so on). Even if a hospital resorts to HIPAA-compliant patient tracking software, it makes sense to mention that careless actions of hospital personnel who have access to tracking info and patient databases and can reveal it (deliberately or not) may provoke data leakages. So, educating on how to use smart patient tracking securely shouldn’t be at the bottom of the adoption list for smart patient tracking.

The necessity to establish continuous patient tracking

Monitoring can be interrupted if a patient loses or throws away their tagged bracelet. Such situations are difficult to foresee and prevent, so hospital staff needs to deal with the situation as quickly as possible. An IoT system, in its turn, may help here revealing an unusual location of an RFID tag and informing responsible hospital personnel.

Instead of a conclusion

Smart patient tracking with RFID and IoT gives greater visibility into each patient’s location, improves patient safety, helps to identify the gaps in internal hospital processes and find the ways to cover these gaps. However, there is a number of concerns in adopting smart patient tracking (for example, ethical issues of tracking people, cybersecurity, and so on). For this innovation to pay off, it should be implemented with care and consideration to make it convenient and safe for patients and doctors.

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