Real-Time Locating Systems: A Focus on Tags and Platform Components

September 1, 2010 | Evaluations & Guidance


The real-time locating system (RTLS) marketplace continues to evolve. When we last evaluated this technology in our November 2006 issue, the article was titled “Asset Tracking Systems.” While most early and current RTLS installations are indeed used for asset tracking, vendors are now promoting other applications, and hospitals are starting to look at and implement them. These include departmental-based workflow applications (e.g., emergency department ED and perioperative workflows), enterprise-wide workflow applications (e.g., bed management and patient flow), and other applications such as temperature monitoring. Although RTLS technology is complex, it can be thought of as having two basic parts: the tag/platform system and the end-user software application. These two parts can be purchased from the same vendor or from different vendors. Our Evaluation deals with the tag/platform portion of the solution.

Tags are attached to items or individuals and emit a  locating signal. The platform receives the locating signal and then communicates the location data to a location engine hosted on a server. (Though software-based, the location engine is considered part of the tag/platform system.) The platform hardware consists of readers (devices such as receivers, sensors, exciters, or monitors, depending on the manufacturer and the technology used)—which are directly involved with communicating with tags—and in some cases other components (e.g., bridges) for connecting to the hospital’s network. For a more in-depth discussion of these various elements and advice on what to consider during your procurement, see our September 2009 Guidance Article, “Real-Time Locating Systems: Tracking Down the Right Solution for Your Facility.”

In this Evaluation, we review the offerings from five RTLS tag/platform vendors for various location tracking applications, ranging from basic asset tracking to more advanced applications such as workflow. Our investigations consisted of on-site hospital visits, phone interviews, review of specifications, assessment of the physical components (e.g., tags, readers), and an analysis of each vendor’s overall product and service.

The participating vendors are:

Because of the evolving nature of RTLS products and the extreme fluidity of the marketplace, this technology proved to be a very fast-moving target for our study. In the opening section of this article, Proceed with Caution, we detail some of the complexities of the marketplace and some important caveats about our findings. Our Ratings section includes a description of each of the three main use categories in which we rated the systems. That section is followed by a discussion titled Hospital-Based Research Findings, in which we describe our overall determinations from our conversations with and visits to facilities that have implemented RTLS solutions. Finally, we present our product profiles for the five vendors, detailing specific findings and specifications for each.

Our conclusions are based on our assessment of the tag/platform vendors’ products founded on a review of technical specifications, installation requirements, and experience in healthcare. We encourage readers to read our findings in their entirety. .

Table: [Evaluation at...

Access Full Content

Contact us today at 610.825.6000.