Contact Tracing Gets Real

By Shane Waslaski / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
August 3, 2020

While there is no doubt a heightened focus around infection control in our nation’s healthcare facilities, the fact is that nosocomial infections and concerns about unintentional spread are nothing new. In fact, tracking and containing infection have always been of major concern for clinics and hospitals – and the community that entrusts them with their care.

The potential for unchecked infection spread is high. It’s not uncommon for a patient to enter a hospital or clinic with an infectious disease, spreading it through the air and on surfaces. We need to look no further than the emergency room or other waiting area to see how Patient 0 could easily create a major outbreak. Just follow them as they move around the facility and make multiple touchpoints with equipment, surfaces, staff, and other patients and families.

While hospitals and facilities have always had protocols to isolate cases, what has not existed was an expedient and accurate way to track those contacts and prevent significant contamination. Previously, when a patient was identified as having an infection, the process of tracing that patient’s location was wholly manual. That leads to hours, and sometimes days, of piecing together the patient’s potential interactions, which is inefficient, inaccurate, and frustrating.

Today, that has changed. Many healthcare facilities are leveraging the location-based intelligence (LBI) received from real-time location systems. Information is collected, automatically, in real-time, ensuring complete accuracy and recordkeeping of contacts within the facility. In cases of suspected or real infection identification, a contact location report can be pulled in minutes.

Aside from the obvious benefits to patient and employee safety and maintaining an organization’s reputation, LBI also keeps staff focused on patient care and working at top of licensure. 

How it works

LBI is simple to execute. Staff wear badges that track their location in real time. Patients, too, are equipped with their own, temporary, location badges while in the facility. Location tags are also attached to equipment.

As they move through the building, every interaction between staff, patients, medical equipment, and locations is logged.  Data input is completely automated, and aggregated, meaning there are no staff stops at computers or kiosks to chart locations. In addition, random visits to nonclinical locations, such as the bathroom or cafeteria, are also tracked to ensure comprehensive, moment-by-moment tracing. 

Big picture benefits

LBI can also be applied in nonacute facilities, enabling clinics and other organizations to allow patients to self-room, creating a future that may not include waiting rooms. Using their temporary locating device, patients can check themselves into a clinic and go directly to their own room, which is not only about safety, but also a major patient satisfier. 

According to a recent COVID-19 Patient Sentiment Survey, conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), providers can influence up to 50% of the conditions affecting a patient’s willingness to seek medical treatment.  Additionally, the survey demonstrates that provider protocols for testing, cleaning, and PPE hold the greatest potential to increase patient comfort levels. With the industry facing billions in losses and patients continuing to forego, elective, primary and other specialty care visits, this technology investment has the potential to restore patient confidence and revenue. 

Beyond infection and contact tracing, location-based intelligence gives healthcare organizations a reliable, single set of objective, meaningful operational data. In a time of uncertainty, this is especially important as healthcare leaders seek insights into existing protocols, and look to drive lasting change in patient and staff safety. In our current climate, keeping infection contained and controlled has never been more important across the care continuum.

It can help optimize everything from patient care, to value-based reimbursements, while also helping prepare for whatever contact and tracing protocols are yet to emerge.

Shane Waslaski is  VP and General Manager of Location-Based Intelligence for Infor.


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