Staff using BLE

The Right – and Wrong – Ways to Leverage BLE for RTLS in Hospitals

We’ve written in this space before about the different kinds of real-time location systems (RTLS) available on the market today – including their downsides. The great infrastructure expense of legacy RTLS technologies like infrared and ultrasound is well known. Yet newer systems, like BLE-based RTLS, come with hidden infrastructure costs all their own. These liabilities, however, are far less publicized.

What you need to know about BLE for RTLS

At first blush, BLE based RTLS solutions seem to solve a lot of legacy systems’ pain points. They require less disruption when being installed, provide longer tag battery life, are compatible with mobile devices, and can operate using a hospital’s existing IT network, among other benefits.

But these systems also take a tremendous toll on a hospital’s IT network, and they don’t solve legacy system’s fundamental drawback: the need to have a device in every single room and corridor to ensure room-level accuracy.

BLE RTLS uses different technology, but it runs into the same fundamental problem: to provide room-level accuracy, you still need a ton of devices throughout the hospital—this get expensive very quickly. Yet even with extensive infrastructure, typically configured BLE-based RTLS are far less accurate than their legacy predecessors.

What makes BLE-based RTLS less accurate?

Unfortunately, if you use a traditional BLE-based RTLS, you still need to have a sensor in every room. Why? BLE is a radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology. Unlike with infrared or ultrasound technologies, BLE signals can penetrate walls and cover a wide range. Therefore, unless you have sensors in every room of the hospital, you can’t guarantee that when a sensor picks up a signal from a tag, that it’s in the same room with the sensor unless you have a robust system of sensors that can determine the location of a tag based on the strength of the signal it emits.

Consider what this arrangement looks like in a huge hospital in a large city. You may have 600 patient rooms, 30-50 procedural rooms, and miles of corridors. If you’re using a BLE system, you’ll need to put sensors in all those areas – and you still won’t be getting a high level of accuracy. Your staff will still be spending too much time finding the equipment they need, and you will not have the kind of granular information necessary to maximize a financial return on the investment in the system.

Taking BLE technology to the next level

The Cognosos RTLS system solves this problem by using BLE technology in a way it has never been leveraged before.

First, Cognosos operates on its own IT backbone – which spares the hospital’s existing network from the burden of extra traffic. Second, Cognosos flips the traditional “tag-up” orientation of RTLS on its head. Instead of reporting their location, the tags are the receivers of signals transmitted by beacons installed infrequently around the hospital. Using a low-cost, long-range networking technology, the tags connect with one of only two on-site gateway devices on each floor, which relays the signals to the cloud. There, artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms perform a sort of “facial recognition” calculation, comparing the data received with what the system has been taught about the hospital’s landscape. This allows Cognosos to provide the room-level accuracy hospitals need without a significant amount of infrastructure.

If you’d like to learn more about RTLS for hospitals, then download our “Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right RTLS Solution for your Hospital” now to learn:

  • About different RTLS options available on the market
  • How RTLS technology developed and advanced over time — and why that is important
  • How to approach the process of selecting the right RTLS for your hospital.

Get the guide here

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