VA greenlights massive real-time, location tracking safety project

By Neil Versel

Intelligent InsitesThe Department of Veterans Affairs is spending $543 million to outfit all 152 of its hospitals and seven outpatient pharmacies with real-time location systems (RTLS) and millions of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, a project that could lend legitimacy to the entire field of RTLS in healthcare, according to a key technology supplier.

"It's pretty rare that something this big comes along to jump-start a whole industry," Marcus Ruark, vice president of RTLS vendor Intelligent InSites. The Fargo, N.D.-based company is a subcontractor on the VA project to prime contractor HP Enterprise Services on the five-year project.

Intelligent InSites will be attaching millions of RTLS and RFID tags to medical equipment, surgical instruments and supplies at VA medical centers, and providing the Veterans Health Administration with related analytics and intelligence services. Ruark says that Intelligent InSites likes to provide "real-time operational intelligence."

According to the company, the work will start with asset management, management of supplies in cardiac catheterization labs, workflow related to processing of sterile equipment and automated temperature monitoring. Later, the VA will be looking to control patient wandering with RTLS, as well as monitoring hand hygiene and managing workflow in emergency departments and operating suites.

In each VA hospital and pharmacy, Intelligent InSites software will provide operational intelligence at the departmental level and facility-wide monitoring and control over workflow processes and patient care. "There's real-time information that can be pushed to someone's mobile device," Ruark says. "But also there's a chance for benchmarking."

On a wider scale, regional and national managers will be able to monitor performance, set best practices and compare performance from department to department, hospital to hospital and region to region. "They can look for best practices and then try to spread them across the organization," Ruark explains.

"The flexibility of the Intelligent InSites platform, including its ability to empower multiple applications to deliver real-time operational intelligence across multiple use cases and multiple facilities, supports VA's vision to improve healthcare efficiency across the VA enterprise," Kimberly Brayley, director of the Veterans Health Administration's RTLS Project Management Office, says in a press release from Intelligent InSites. Brayley was not immediately available for further comment.

The VA effectively has 21 health systems, called Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs). In VISN 11, comprising parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, work actually began last year with Intelligent InSites also subcontracting to HP. "It ended up in a way being a pilot project for the entire contract," Ruark says.

Another group supplied VISN 10, which covers most of Ohio and a handful of counties in Indiana and Kentucky, but the VA chose the HP team. According to Ruark, IBM initially protested the contract award to HP, and the Government Accountability Office instructed the VA to go back and take another look at the process. Following the review, HP finally won the contract in late December.

Implementation has not started beyond VISN 11, though HP has begun some of the background work such as setting up a data model and planning how to deploy tags and readers, Ruark reports. "The VA has put a lot into how they roll this out," such as what to do with all the data the RTLS infrastructure will generate, Ruark adds.

Intelligent InSites specializes in operational data, but Ruark sees opportunities to branch out with the VA contract. "Maybe it's time to start integrating the clinical and the operational," he surmises in an interview with MobiHealthNews. For example, Ruark says he envisions a system that can, for example, warn a nurse who has just walked into a room with a patient who has an allergy to latex or perhaps carries a communicable disease.