Dr. Daniel Siegal, Senior Staff Radiologist at Henry Ford Health, says his organization created a mapping platform to guide staff and track equipment.

Nov 17 2022

How Mobility Helps Hospital Staff Find Efficiencies and Navigate Complex Facilities

Healthcare teams looking to boost efficiency and simplify navigation through medical facilities turn to streamlined solutions.

There’s a lot of waiting around in hospitals. Patients wait for rooms, doctors or test results. But medical teams spend a lot of time waiting too.

“It’s frustrating as a clinician to not have a real-time view of where important things are inside the hospital,” says

Dr. Daniel Siegal, senior staff radiologist at Henry Ford Health and chief medical officer at Henry Ford Innovations in Detroit.

Siegal, who has a computer science background, wondered if technology could help solve the problem. He teamed up with colleague Paul Zieske to create a mapping platform to guide staff and track equipment.

“If you’re trying to get an Uber or Lyft, you can look at a map and see the driver is five minutes away and coming in your direction. A nurse might want to do that for an IV pump. A transporter might need to know that for a patient,” Siegal says.

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Supporting Hospital Navigation With Technology

Siegal’s solution at Henry Ford Health, incubated through Henry Ford Innovations and now commercialized as the NavvTrack platform, is one of a growing number of tools designed to make hospital navigation quicker and more efficient. Many academic medical centers, for instance, are complex mazes with many buildings and parking areas. Solutions that use location-sensing technologies such as Bluetooth low energy and Wi-Fi-based positioning systems are helping move people through facilities.

And healthcare staff aren’t the only ones who need the guidance; patients also benefit from modern hospital navigation tools.

Wayfinding used to be a nice-to-have but now is increasingly a must-have,” says Barry Runyon, research vice president at Gartner. “From a consumer and patient convenience perspective, it’s a no-brainer.”

The beauty of many of today’s asset tracking and wayfinding systems is that they don’t require new infrastructure to stand up. Patients can pull up services on their own mobile devices, and hospitals can just use the Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth beacons already in place.

Certainly, it helps to do a networking security assessment and make sure a healthcare system’s infrastructure is robust enough to handle such a solution, says Josh Peacock, healthcare solutions adviser at Sirius Healthcare, a CDW company.

Technologies that support hospital navigation have also gotten more granular in recent years, according to Peacock, with tracking improving down to the inch. “The fidelity of location tracking now is just so much better than it was five years ago,” he says.

FIND OUT: What health systems need to know about custom apps.

Sharing Indoor Positioning With Navigation Platforms in Healthcare

Hospital navigation issues can translate into delayed admissions and discharges and slow the turnaround of rooms. At Henry Ford Health, its navigation platform has helped reduce the time it takes to clean a room by more quickly alerting the team that a room is ready and dispatching the closest available staffer.

“It happens day in and day out at hospitals all around the country,” Siegal says. “The whole challenge around the length of stay has been a big deal in inpatient care for a long time.”

Henry Ford Health’s app is automatically deployed onto hospital-issued Apple iPhone devices for support serv­ices employees. “Each phone pings its location back to a central command and control server,” Siegal says.

They show up as blue dots on a Wi-Fi-based indoor positioning system. “Now, we’ve got the control tower, where supervisors can see in real time where the whole team is,” he says. Think of it as air traffic control for a hospital.

The system also tracks equipment. It attaches asset tags to devices such as wheelchairs, stretchers, beds and even specimen samples — “the kinds of things that, if you ask any nurse, they can never find when they need them,” Siegal adds.

The tags can also help engineers locate equipment to perform routine services. “Or, if there’s a recall, you don’t want to waste your time searching every single one, because 80 percent of them are fine,” Siegal says.

Map

Staff at Henry Ford Health can use the NavvTrack app to track equipment or see where other team members are located. Courtesy of Henry Ford Health

Hospital Navigation Solutions Should Be Easy to Follow

Hospital navigation solutions can be challenging to implement, but thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices and advancements in interoperability and location-sensing technologies, it has become easier and more affordable.

For patients, wayfinding solutions have been integrated with an array of provider operational systems, including messaging, workforce collaboration, patient portals, food service and intelligent parking systems. Products such as Aruba’s Meridian and ServiceNow’s Indoor Mapping may have integrations that allow patients easier access.

In Southern California, it was important to Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center to find an accessible wayfinding system that was easy to roll out. PVHMC launched the system a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic while grappling with staffing challenges, so it needed something that wouldn’t place additional burdens on staff.

PVHMC uses a service that offers maps that can be launched from the health system’s Cerner patient portal or through one of the many QR codes found throughout its facilities. Users don’t even need to create an account or download an app.

“You don’t want the technology be so advanced that only tech wizards are going to be able to use it,” says Kent Hoyos, CIO and vice president of information services at PVHMC. “You don’t log in, and no one’s being tracked.”

DISCOVER: How healthcare systems can approach digital transformation planning with ServiceNow.

Wayfinding has been particularly helpful during the pandemic, enabling hospitals to close off hallways or reroute foot traffic to protect patients. Maps can point out water fountains or bathrooms along a route or, in the case of the pandemic, remove them and instead highlight hand-sanitizing stations. “You have those kinds of capabilities,” Hoyos says.

PVHMC also integrated a patient communication app with its wayfinding system so that appointment confirmations sent to patients include links to maps with directions.

One of the biggest challenges for PVHMC has been reminding staff to refer visitors to the system.

“We have always told people at orientation, when you see someone come in the door who looks lost, it’s your job to escort them to wherever they need to be,” Hoyos says. “But that can take people out of commission for a minute.”

Front desk employees still default to handing out printed maps, but when people see the digital maps, they’re surprised by how helpful they are. Because the public has embraced QR codes in a variety of ways, including on restaurant menus, “you don’t get the wild-eyed, ‘I don’t understand how to use this’ look from people,” he says. “It is an easier technology, more intuitive than most.” 

Photography by Matthew LaVere

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