VA Contract Could Spur RTLS Tech Adoption

HP, Intelligent Insites, WaveMark among vendors contracted to implement electronic tracking solutions throughout VA system.
 7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare
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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has contracted with HP Enterprise Services to provide a real-time location system (RTLS) in 152 medical centers and seven outpatient pharmacy facilities to help identify, locate and monitor assets and supplies within and between facilities.

The five-year contract, which is worth up to $543 million, will be a shot in the arm for the RTLS sector. Currently, RTLS is deployed in 10% - 15% of U.S. hospitals.

Under the VA contract, HP will supply program management, operations planning, implementation management, hardware and software and site readiness preparation. HP is subcontracting to Centrak, Intelligent Insites, WaveMark, and other firms for development, integration, implementation, testing, training and support functions, an HP announcement said.

Intelligent Insites will provide the enterprise-wide RTLS solution, according to a press release from that company. Its RTLS system, which will integrate with the VA's VistA EHR, will automatically collect data from RTLS and RFID tags on VA medical equipment, surgical instruments and supplies.

[ Unsolved healthcare problems mean IT in this sector should continue to grow. Read Health IT Bubble Is No Bubble At All. ]

Among the initial purposes of this deployment are asset management, cath lab supply management, sterile processing workflow, and automated temperature monitoring, the Intelligent Insites announcement said. Future use cases include patient wander management, hand hygiene monitoring, emergency department workflow and operating room workflow.

WaveMark will provide an asset tracking solution for the VA's cardiac catheterization and electrophysiology labs, the company said. WaveMark noted that its application is already being used to track supplies in those labs in the Ann Arbor and Detroit, Mich., VA Medical Centers, and will be expanded to 70 hospital catheterization labs in the VA system over the next five years.

The company also pointed out that some manufacturers are beginning to apply RFID tags to their products before they are shipped to the VA, "which greatly simplifies the receiving process." This comment hints at some big challenges ahead until all VA suppliers ship their products with RFID tags.

The VA tested the potential of RTLS by introducing the technology in seven of its hospitals in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, starting last August. HP and Intelligent Insites were involved in that deployment.

An article in Healthcare IT News quotes Marcus Ruark, vice president of marketing for Intelligent Insites, as saying that the VA's decision to roll out RTLS to all of its hospitals could spur more sales in the private sector. "When we talk to commercial hospitals about what the VA is doing, they get very interested," he said.

A survey by KLAS Research showed that in late 2011, between 10% and 15% of U.S. hospitals were using RTLS. Nearly all of the 150 responding facilities, which ranged from very small to very large hospitals, said they had derived operational efficiency gains from their use of RTLS. However, report author Steve VanWagenen cautioned, "Not all RTLS deployments are created equal. Much of a facility's success with RTLS depends on the breadth of the deployment, the variety of ways RTLS is being used and the level of integration between RTLS and other solutions."

The KLAS report noted that 75% of hospitals using RTLS found that it improved equipment utilization and staff efficiency. Other benefits included better documentation, improved alerts and reporting and the ability to save time by locating assets quickly.

As large healthcare providers test the limits, many smaller groups question the value. Also in the new, all-digital Big Data Analytics issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Ask these six questions about natural language processing before you buy. (Free with registration.)