Tracking Technology Improving Nurse Workflow and Staffing

- 04/14/2014

Celebration Health, a hospital located in Kissimmee, FL is giving light praises to its initial testing of an electronic work flow tracking technology. In 2011 the hospital began piloting a Real Time Locating System (RTLS) developed by Stanley Healthcare in a 32-bed surgical unit. The hospital is using the system to visualize the movement and activity of nurses and other hospital staff. Thus far the RTLS system has provided valuable information, allowing the hospital to change the way they do business.

How it Works

“The goal is to figure out how we can streamline workflow and understand the way we are utilizing staff,” said the hospital’s Director of Performance Improvement Ashely Simmons. Nurses, a few doctors, and some support staff wear tracking tags on their name badges that broadcast an ultrasound signal to the system. This allows the tracking of movement that is then recorded onto a heat map. This data can help with real-time decision making for difficult patients, inefficient workflow or patient reassignment.

Heat map visualization of nurse activity.

Heat map shows work patterns of nurses. (Source: Stanley Healthcare)

Staff Perception

Not everyone would be excited about the idea that their every movement is to be tracked, recorded, and reviewed later. You could see how that could potentially cause undesirable anxiety with your staff. That’s why Celebration Hospital made the wearing of tracking tags voluntary. “They were told they did not have to wear it, but if they did it would help us,” said Patty Jo Toor, Chief Nursing Officer at Celebration Health. Simmons followed up by saying that it was important to communicate to staff that the data would not be used in a punitive way.

What the Hospital Learns from the Data

The traditional and still widely used method to measure staffing is with a “midnight census” that uses capacity and occupancy information to estimate patient flow, staffing, etc. The RTLS gave the hospital a much different picture of nurse workflow than the traditional method. Toor commented, “What we see in our units is we’re underestimating it — although that may not be true of every unit of every hospital.” Thy system also helped to point out inefficiencies. One example was a nurse that was assigned to care for two patients, each at opposite ends of the hallway. With the RTLS heat map visualization you can see the distances and estimated time it takes for the nurse to walk back and forth multiple times. This information can be used to justify moving or reassigning the patient.

Celebration Health is considering expanding the RTLS technology into their emergency operations. Emergency operation inefficiencies are the most costly. Being able to identify gaps and workflow adjustments can translate into big savings for the hospital and better, faster care for patients. Simmons said, “we want to show what did we do to provide the best value for each patient while they were here.”