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Track and trace 3.0: how smart hospitals can track their assets and patients

May 19, 2019

Following on from many other sectors, track and trace is now also increasingly being used in the medical world. From the point of view of efficient business operations and cost savings, it is important that hospitals know where important assets such as instruments, equipment, and medical devices are located. Also, applying track and trace 3.0 has the potential to improve patient safety and satisfaction.

What are the main benefits of track and trace in healthcare? Which techniques are already being used to track assets and patients? And what new developments can we expect in this area in the near future? We will explain this to you, in this blog article.

Cheaper, smarter and smaller

Concepts such as track and trace and the Internet of Things (IoT) have existed for decades in various forms. Technological innovations have, however, ensured that the use of track-and-trace 3.0 and IoT has gained momentum in recent years.

With track and trace 1.0, the focus was mainly on a physical product that was being transported. With track and trace 2.0, the emphasis is no longer on a physical point, but mainly on the customer. It is not so much about where the order has to go, but where the customer is. Track and trace 3.0 goes one step further and provides even more accurate location updates in real-time. 3.0 trackers can send their current location every few seconds and are therefore very suitable for demanding users such as research agencies, medical professionals or investigation services.

Modern hardware is becoming more affordable, more powerful, smaller and uses less energy. This ensures that devices, “things”, can now easily be made “smarter”. New developments in the field of being able to connect “things” with the internet, the connectivity, and therefore the transport of data, also contribute to the rapid closing of business cases and the application of the possibilities that IoT offers. The accuracy of the technology has also improved enormously over time.

The technology behind track and trace

Track and trace can use different connectivity technologies.
We examine them and tell you the most important pros and cons.

GPS

GPS uses satellites that send signals from space to GPS receivers on Earth. The location of an object or organism can be determined with the help of these signals. The benefit of GPS is that the system can be used broadly and universally. The con is that GPS only works in the open air and therefore cannot be used for Real Time Location System (RTLS) applications within the hospital walls.

RFID

This technology uses radio frequencies to track objects or people. This is done with the help of a chip and a receiver/antenna with which the data supplied by the chip can be read. The most important benefits of RFID are the modest costs and the fact that you do not need batteries. A con is that there is one-way communication. Moreover, RFID is only optimally accurate if the object being followed is in the vicinity. It is therefore not a good method for tracking assets and people over long distances.

RFID can be roughly divided into two groups: active and passive RFID. The distinction between these two main groups is made based on the energy source of the “tag”, the part that is linked to the object to be identified. If the tag has its own energy source in the form of a battery, we speak of active RFID. If the tag does not have its own energy source, but for its signal depends on the energy that is extracted from the environment, we are dealing with passive RFID. Passive RFID will only do its job when requested and therefore works great for fixed objects such as an X-ray machine. The active variant follows moving objects.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi tags send a signal to different access points within a building. The benefits of this technique: you can use the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure in a building and there is two-way communication and the use of sensors. A con is that Wi-Fi tags are quite large, greedy (they consume a lot of energy) and are expensive.
Bluetooth
This technique uses small batteries that emit a Bluetooth signal. Bluetooth tags are cheap, have long battery life and use two-way communication and sensitive sensors. The accuracy largely depends on the number of Bluetooth readers that you use.

UWB

UWB (ultra-wideband) is a technology that is driven by the use of small, wireless and energy-efficient transmitters that broadcast an ultra-wideband signal. UWB is regarded as the gold standard in location precision. The accuracy of the signal is 0.1 to 1 meter. The con is that this high degree of precision requires a large number of expensive readers. UWB is, therefore, the most expensive option of the five mentioned track and trace solutions.

Benefits of track and trace in smart hospitals

Techniques such as track and trace and IoT are becoming increasingly common in hospitals. They are part of a broader trend that focuses on promoting e-health, using modern technology to support or improve healthcare.

The main reason for applying track and trace in a hospital environment is that it is often unclear where an object is at any specific time. Track and trace is not an end in itself but above all a very practical means to an end. The use of track and trace in a hospital environment has many benefits, in terms of cost savings, logistics, and in the area of patient safety and service. You will find the most important profit points shown below.

Better inventory management and cost savings

The reality shows that within hospitals there is often no overview of where devices, surgical instruments or medical devices are located. As a result, hospitals order on average ten to twenty percent more than they actually need. Those extra purchased items count for a lot of extra costs that weigh heavily on the hospital budget, especially because the equipment we are talking about is often very expensive. A good track and trace system ensures that you always know exactly where a medical instrument or device is located.

This results in a considerable cost saving. A medical track-and-trace system leads to more efficient purchasing and better, more structured forms of inventory management. After all, there is a better overview of expiration dates, there is always an up-to-date overview of the stock and a good overview of the expenses of medical implants is created.

All these factors lead to lower costs and a higher return on investment (ROI) for the hospital. The broader introduction of medical track and trace is therefore expected to contribute to better control of healthcare costs. For example, research by ArjoHuntleigh has shown that healthcare institutions can use 30 percent less medical devices and equipment if they use track and trace on a structural basis.

Improved patient safety

In the area of ​​patient safety, good track and trace systems also have the potential to provide important improvements and more efficiency. This is possible, for example, in the following ways.

  • With the help of track and trace, a hospital can find out more quickly which implant (pacemaker, artificial hip, breast implants) is placed in which patient. The number of registration errors will decrease and the availability and clarity of the data are further increased by linking them to electronic patient records.
  • It becomes easier to remove products from the warehouse in the event of a recall. Thanks to track and trace, you know exactly where all your things are. A big gain in safety because you prevent a wrong or unsound product from ending up in a patient.
  • Track and trace can also help people recover at home safely. With track and trace applications, such as the so-called “home cases”, you can build integrated monitoring, alarm and call solutions for rehabilitators or seniors who live independently. Good for safety and patient experience. Moreover, it is a smart way for healthcare institutions to improve services without increasing costs.

Shorter waiting times and better patient experience

Anyone who has already gone through an intensive medical trajectory in his or her life can undoubtedly participate in one of the biggest annoyances in healthcare: the often long waiting times. Also in this area, track and trace can partly offer a solution. With an external chip that can, for example, be built into a wristband, a healthcare institution can monitor precisely what waiting times patients will have to deal with in different departments. By subsequently storing this data in a database, the hospital can map out where the most important bottlenecks are and work on a better flow by organizing processes more efficiently.

Practical examples

The use of track and trace in smart hospitals has already resulted in a broad and fascinating spectrum of practical applications. Consider, for example, the applications below.

  • Systems that ensure traceability and full registration of medical devices, disposables, and instruments. They often combine vital features such as full inventory management, optimization of the flow of goods, and order advice.
  • Systems that trace surgical instruments by following surgical tools at different times during the sterilization process.
  • Tracking systems that track and trace tissue, from s donation by a donor to implantation in the patient.
    Sensors that go off when vulnerable people such as elderly people with dementia or people who rehabilitate, make abnormal movements.
  • “Smart” pills. These are automated control systems that register whether patients are taking the right pills at the desired times. That information is then automatically sent to the doctor.
  • Patients with implanted glucose monitoring systems receive their data at set times via their smartphone. That way they can treat their diabetes better.
  • By placing a tracker, doctors are always aware of all data about implants that have been inserted into their patients. Healthcare providers must inform patients about this method and explicitly request permission to use and exchange the data obtained.
  • So-called smartwatches can inform patients about or remind them of appointments with a particular doctor or specialist, but also give them the navigation information that is needed to arrive at the right place in time. Other smartwatches can provide patients with important information at any time, such as blood pressure or blood sugar levels.

Typeqast and track and trace

At Typeqast we work on solutions that make it possible to track and track assets, staff, and patients. The result: apps with which a nurse or doctor can see where something or someone is at a certain moment.
The core of these solutions is the disclosure and visualization of relevant data so that business processes can be organized more efficiently. If you know which assets you have, you can work a lot more effectively and cheaper. At Typeqast, we design smart healthcare cloud platforms that support all Bluetooth hardware, WiFi APs (access points) and Bluetooth positioning devices by unlocking location data and data generated by sensors and making them accessible/accessible.

What will the future bring?

Although a lot is already happening in the field of track and trace 3.0 in healthcare, we have just started. The major breakthrough that is coming is BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). Here, the chip/tag gets its energy from the rays that are generated by connectivity, in this case, Bluetooth.

Another development in the pipeline is that transmitters will become a lot smarter in the future, among other things due to advances in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The trackers are now still fairly “stupid” but in the future, they will increasingly behave like smart robots that, for example, also administer medication independently to patients.

Besides, future solutions will increasingly rely on existing hardware. The emphasis will, therefore, be on improving and refining existing technologies and not so much on reinventing the wheel. In terms of scale, there is likely to be a trend towards a uniform system for the entire hospital, but for other sub-areas of healthcare, there remains a need for open and flexible systems. Rehabilitation care is a good example of the latter.

Conclusion: track and trace 3.0 meets an important need

The eagerness with which many track and trace applications are embraced by hospitals and other healthcare institutions shows that technology meets a need. Thanks to track and trace, you can not only manage many assets better, but you can also make profits in terms of patient safety and friendliness. The net profit: a more effective design of business processes, patients who are helped better and faster and a higher ROI for the hospital or healthcare institution. An additional advantage is that the technology does not have to be very expensive and meets the most important requirements in the field of security and privacy protection.

Curious about the possibilities that track-and-trace 3.0 offers for your hospital or healthcare institution? Then you are at the right place at Typeqast. Feel free to contact us to see what is possible.