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Why IoT And Location Tech Spending Is Surging In Healthcare

Zebra Technologies aims to address this need with its location solutions, currently testing in hospitals from Washington D.C. to the Netherlands.

With 1.6 billion connected IoT devices expected to be in use in the healthcare vertical by 2020, its clear that connected tech — and specifically, location-based solutions — are of growing interest to hospitals and healthcare providers.

Why? “Locationing is really big in healthcare because there’s a huge need to automate workflows,” explains Chris Sullivan, global healthcare practice lead at Zebra Technologies. “There’s also a huge need to reduce waste and inefficiency. One of the biggest challenges in healthcare is a lack of awareness as to what’s happening in real-time.”

It’s with that use case in mind that Zebra Technologies is setting its location solution sights on the healthcare space, aimed at aiding facilities in improving their ability to locate charts, supplies, and more — and even to monitor patients.

GeoMarketing: A Gartner study forecasts that by 2020, there will be 1.6 billion connected IoT devices in the healthcare space. Why is IoT and location tech spending so big in the healthcare vertical? 

Chris Sullivan: Locationing is really big in healthcare because there’s a huge need to automate workflows, as well as a huge need to reduce waste and inefficiency. One of the biggest challenges in healthcare is a lack of awareness as to what’s happening in real-time. For example: An average human being at a job will walk a mile and a half per day, but a nurse will walk four to five miles a day because they’re constantly looking and searching for things — supplies, charts, returning to patients, et cetera.

And not only is that wasteful, but it also pulls away from patient care. It removes the clinician from the patient. So, I think there just this huge desire to know where [material] things are in healthcare. A large hospital is many floors, huge square feet, and there are so many opportunities for things to get misplaced. [Connected devices] and locationing solutions can help solve for that.

At Zebra, we’ve identified four primary applications of locationing in healthcare, and over 45 different use cases of location applications.

What are the four major applications?

The four big categories are: the locationing of patients, the locationing of team members or employees, the locationing of medical assets or equipment, and the physical locationing of the environment — like the conditions in various rooms, temperature, the way they’re set up.

What every healthcare organization wants is precision, and capabilities at a low-rate cost that they can have enterprise-wide. And that formula doesn’t exist in single technology. Really, the consensus conclusion is, for successful locationing deployments, you need a hybrid technology approach. You need, in some cases, the very precise technology such as Active RFID, that can get very tight in terms of position. In other areas, you just need zonal technologies — or to set up a geo-fence.

That’s really the best practice that we’ve observed: threading those together into a unified locationing web, so that’s what we’re doing.

So how does Zebra’s MotionWorks solution work? Tell me a little bit about that, and how that could possibly extend to the healthcare space going forward?

The MotionWorks Asset solution allows healthcare providers — and businesses in general — to track and manage assets with detailed, on-time information about the location, condition, and state of their enterprise resources. The idea is that automated asset tracking saves time and money, making operations more efficient by ensuring assets are available when and where they are needed.

It’s powered by Savanna, Zebra’s data intelligence platform. MotionWorks is a portfolio of customizable end-to-end solutions that integrate operational and edge data from multiple sources — including Ultra-Wideband (UWB), RFID tags, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and cameras — and it supports hundreds of thousands of tracked resources.

Any examples of deployments so far that you can share? In what hospitals or healthcare facilities? 

I think it’s important for people to understand how impactful location solutions can be for patient health.

We’re involved with a deployment where we’re tracking the patient as early as when they enter the ambulance, and then we’re tracking the speed in which that patient goes from the ambulance to a medical procedure. With conditions like strokes and heart attacks — which are the number one and number two causes of death in the United States — every minute and every second counts. We’re able to put location technology on the patient as they enter the ambulance, and that helps track the speed of their patient care. So we’ve been able to demonstrate a shorter workflow process so they can get treated quicker — and that’s a lifesaving, life-impacting solution. Locationing in healthcare is more than just efficiency and convenience. It’s literally making a difference in people’s lives, and I think that’s a really cool thing.

This patient use case in deployment is in the Netherlands. It’s a major medical center university called Leiden Medical Center.

And then in D.C. we’re working with MedStar. MedStar is using location technology both for asset identification and also for through procedures in the cath lab.

When you look at procedures, imagine a scenario where the surgeon shows up and the patient’s not there yet. Or everybody’s there, but the assets needed to execute the procedure aren’t all there. So we’re doing multi-dimensional deployment around start times and end times in the cath lab to get that process right and the coordination right.

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Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of GeoMarketing.com. A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.