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Low-Frequency Aids Accurate Real-Time Asset Tracking in Healthcare

Real-time asset tracking cannot be supported only by Wi-Fi. Healthcare organizations need to consider adding networking tools to more accurately locate patients and equipment.

real-time asset tracking in healthcare

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Healthcare organizations are rapidly adopting networked tools and devices to help improve workflow. From real-time asset tracking to the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), these tools need a layered network that provides an accurate way for them to be located.

Many organizations don’t fully understand the strain they put their Wi-Fi under or what kinds of challenges arise with connecting devices. Not addressing these connectivity issues can significantly waste time and money, according to MGM Solutions CEO Michael Maurer.

How wireless signals will be able to penetrate physical barriers is one of the biggest signaling challenges healthcare organizations will face.

“Wi-Fi uses such a high frequency and the higher the frequency, the smaller the electrical sign wave,” Maurer explained to HITInfrastructure.com. “The smaller the electrical sign wave, the more resistant it is to penetrating the different materials of construction that are found in facilities.”

Older facilities made of concrete or buildings that were not originally built with wireless access in mind are especially challenging for introducing wireless devices into the health IT infrastructure. The devices’ locations can also prevent them from functioning the way they are meant to.

READ MORE: Asset Tracking Solutions Save Providers Time and Money

“If you can relate Wi-Fi to the problems you have at home, you know that as you move further from your router, you have more disconnects. It’s very unreliable with regard to real-time tracking of tags,” said Maurer.

Wi-Fi has been used to track devices, but it’s becoming difficult to accurately track devices in real-time with Wi-Fi. Real-time location and asset tracking have become important tools for healthcare organizations, and Wi-Fi is unable to effectively support those tools.

“Wi-Fi is useful for sharing information, accessing websites – whether they’re hosted internally or not – and to be able to share medical related dated for timely service,” Maurer said.  “Wi-Fi serves an important service in that regard.”

“However, Wi-Fi can’t be used for real-time locating. It’s just not reliable enough,” he continued. “It doesn’t penetrate all the different materials of construction. It’s not reliable enough to be able to accurately triangulate the locations of these RFID tags in real-time.”

The accuracy of these tags can put staff and patients at risk if they do not function properly.

READ MORE: Asset Tracking Significant to IoMT Availability, Security

“If you’re tracking at-risk patients or you have a staff member that feels threatened anywhere on the campus and they press their panic button on their badge, you need to make sure that those badges are going to be heard,” Maurer explained. “Whether it’s by the police or the patient care staff that are responsible for at-risk patients.”

Healthcare organizations need to understand that they need to implement another, lower frequency technology to properly locate an RFID tag.

“Hospitals don’t realize that they can’t get away with just using their Wi-Fi infrastructure software. They think they’re going to be successfully tracking and saving millions of dollars,” said Maurer. “But that couldn’t be and further from the truth. We found that out the hard way. We invested millions of dollars in Wi-Fi technology back in the late ‘90s, to find that because of the high frequency, it would never evolve to the point where it would be useful for real-time locating.”

A lower frequency technology needs to be put in place to accurately locate devices in real-time. Low-frequency technology can penetrate different materials to track devices accurately.

“With low-frequency, the sign wave is much larger,” Maurer explained. “The larger the sign wave, the easier it is to penetrate the different materials that are found in healthcare facilities.”

READ MORE: How Real-Time Alarm Management Improves Patient Care

While these tools can tell where a device is, more tools need to be used to figure out what floor the signal is coming from. Electromagnetic bubbles can be implemented to gain signal tracking accuracy.

The concept that lower frequency radio waves can penetrate different construction materials can also be applied to floors and ceilings. If organizations do not have the tools to differentiate the floor the tag is on, the radio frequency can detect a tag on a different floor, thinking that they are in the same location.

“That’s one of the biggest problems that Wi-Fi has,” Maurer explained. “Without a second or tertiary infrastructure, you can’t isolate to the correct floor. A way to get around that is to add that third, low frequency exciter technology.”

“Electromagnetic bubbles are what we call low-frequency exciters,” added Maurer. “You can adjust them and they hold a size throughout the year, so that you have this invisible bubble. If a tag goes through that bubble, you can assign various mechanisms that can lock the doors down or activate cameras. They could activate any bell or whistle to let somebody know that the tag is at that location. But more importantly, it’s used to determine when a tag goes on or off the floor.”

The combination of Wi-Fi, low-frequency, and low-frequency exciters gives organizations increased flexibility, accuracy, and reliability. That combination also saves time and money staff typically spends on trying to accurately locate tools.

Real-time tracking must be accurate for organizations to benefit from the tools. Locating tags in real-time can help clinicians get to patients faster in times of need, and let them accurately locate tools when they are needed.

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