“Where’s Waldo?” is a lot of fun; you get to pore over detailed pictures trying to spot the familiar red and white striped shirt. If you’re in charge of a hospital or managed care facility, however, “where’s the patient?” is not nearly so much fun. Patients with diminished mental acuity can wander off, and there may be some areas — such as supply or medicine storage — that are off-limits to all patients. RTLS stands for “real-time location system” and just as there are movement monitors designed to help the elderly live independently in their own homes, there are also larger systems designed for hospitals and other facilities.
Sonitor is one company that offers RTLS products and services. The company recently announced new features for its “Sonitor Sense” system. One feature is SenseAlert, which is designed to address the problem of patient wandering. It is possible to pinpoint the location of a patient at any time, as well as generate an alert if the patient approaches an exit or other restricted area. The system relies on low-power ultrasonic transmissions that cannot penetrate walls or glass, providing a more accurate positioning than can be the case with systems that use radio emissions. And the transmitters can run for years on standard alkaline batteries.
One advantage of this system is that it also can be used to track professional staff as well as equipment. As a result, much less time is wasted trying to locate an individual or a needed equipment item. The data is sent to a central program, so that staff can view a floor plan of the facility and see the location of staff and patients at a glance. These wireless sensor systems can improve operating efficiency and the quality of care delivered to the patients.