TechNation Editor John Wallace recently interviewed Rob Reilly, Vice President and General Manager, U.S. & Canada Services, GE Healthcare, regarding the unveiling of the company’s asset tracking solution Encompass. The following is an exclusive Q&A with Reilly.
Q: What makes this asset tracking solution different from the RTLS solutions already available on the market?
Reilly: Real-time location systems (RTLS) have helped hospitals significantly improve management of mobile clinical assets, right-size inventories, and save up to millions of dollars in capital and maintenance costs. However, traditional RTLS required large capital expenditures and long deployment programs before the hospitals could realize the benefits.
GE Healthcare’s Encompass, which is built upon open standards and commercial Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Wi-Fi technologies, eliminates the classic objections to proprietary hard-wired locating systems. Through the marriage of BLE with the existing hospital Wi-Fi infrastructure, it can be installed in a matter of days instead of months and with no need to open ceilings or drill into walls to run cable. As a cloud-based application, the location system is accessible to any authorized staff member and from any computer or mobile clinical asset with Internet access. The capital and installation cost is up to 60 percent lower than for cabled RTLS. There is no on-site server for the hospital to maintain and no dedicated software to update. The system readily scales to accommodate growth and can be easily reconfigured if hospital layouts are redesigned or repurposed.
Q: What do you say to those who may have cybersecurity concerns or questions regarding Encompass?
Reilly: We would start by listening to what their concerns are so we can address them specifically. With that said, the solution does not store patient, staff or examination data. It only stores location data, such as a device’s MAC address and location in latitude and longitude format.
Q: How exactly does Encompass work to help track assets?
Reilly: This RTLS technology provides proximity-based device location data using the same basic geo-referencing as smartphone navigation apps. It is built on a system of battery-powered BLE beacons and mobile and fixed receivers. The receivers transmit location data via Wi-Fi to the cloud by way of a site gateway installed on a server provided by the hospital. [See graphic]
Q: What unique technology and/or features does Encompass use to provide accurate tracking?
Reilly: BLE and Wi-Fi help enhance RTLS consistency and reliability: the signals pass through walls and, with multi-path propagation, function in the presence of staff members or other obstructions, such as equipment carts. At the same time, the short-range and very low transmit power of the Bluetooth beacons limits impact on the hospital’s radio-frequency environment and reduces the risk of interference with other wireless communications and medical equipment. The Bluetooth asset tags are inexpensive, and their operation has been optimized for health care RTLS with batteries that can last two to five years.
Q: What are the benefits of a RTLS deployment for asset tracking?
Reilly: A cost-effective RTLS deployment may offer long-term benefits in patient care, operation efficiency and financial performance. Patient care may improve when one considers that mobile clinical assets may be delivered when patients need them, and care quality can be maximized. Operation efficiency may improve when staff members easily and quickly locate equipment, and biomedical staff can locate equipment to perform timely and compliant planned maintenance. And financial performance may improve when mobile clinical assets inventory is right-sized, and capital, maintenance and labor costs are reduced. Loss, theft and rental of mobile clinical assets like IV pumps and telemetry boxes may also be minimized.
Q: Can you tell our readers more about the GE Healthcare partnership with Zebra Technologies?
Reilly: The new RTLS combines the experience of GE Healthcare in hospital management and RTLS with the expertise of Zebra Technologies in Enterprise Asset Intelligence and wireless communication. We started with existing Zebra hardware and modified the designs to meet the unique needs of a hospital environment. Building upon the redesigned hardware, GE Healthcare created the location intelligence engine and the applications that help produce an end-to-end RTLS that delivers solutions for asset management in the healthcare space. This solution is distributed solely through GE Healthcare. Zebra will continue to provide the hardware needed for the current solutions and work with GE Healthcare on new hardware to provide additional solutions.
Q: Does Encompass work with GE and non-GE devices?
Reilly: The power of our platform is that it is built on open standards, and allows integration with third party applications. This will enable health care providers to potentially extend the benefit of the location data beyond asset tracking, such as to: bed or capacity management, transport system, wayfinding, nurse call system, hospital system wide analytics, contagion control, room readiness system, scheduling system, and patient tracking.
The open-standards approach to RTLS also lets hospitals leverage their investment in Wi-Fi networks instead of building new single-purpose infrastructures. Once the system is installed, staff members can access it on a desktop or laptop computer and on Apple or Android laptops, tablets or smartphones.
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