Real-time Location Systems (RTLS) in Healthcare: Wi-Not Wi-Fi?

Posted by: Kenny Schiff on August 7, 2009

Just finished reading David Hoglund’s newest white paper on RTLS in healthcare. If you are in healthcare technology, and are not already tracking David’s excellent Healthcare Wireless and Device Connectivity blog I highly suggest either firing up your RSS reader and pointing it here, or signing up for his newsletter here. You can download the white paper here here.

I’m not always a great fan of white papers as I often find them manipulative point of view wise, but I think this piece (except for a couple of paragraphs at the end) gives a very impartial read on the whys and hows of RTLS/RFID in healthcare. While it details eloquently the short-comings of WiFi and zonal “good enough” approaches, it more importantly couches them properly against the larger more practical business cases for RTLS in healthcare. David’s piece is less a condemnation of WiFi, and more of a call to making this about business not technology.

Hoglund developed this whitepaper for AwarePoint (whose RTLS technology uses ZigBee), but the conclusions could have just as easily pointed to Sonitor (Ultrasound), or Centrak (IR/RF).

The good news is that customers have some solid choices in powering the critical applications that are so desperately needed to help improve healthcare business performance.

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6 Responses to “Real-time Location Systems (RTLS) in Healthcare: Wi-Not Wi-Fi?”

  1. Mika Lofton
    Aug 12, 2009

    While you would think the business case is strong enough, part of the problem is that hospitals have already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars (even millions) in Wi-Fi infrastructure — or have already gotten the projects approved and funded.

    Many now feel compelled to use Wi-Fi-based solutions to justify the investment they have already made based on the information they had at the time. That of course is short-sighted thinking given the high tag cost, relatively weak reliability and accuracy and limitations of Wi-Fi versus other RTLS systems in health care for patient and staff tracking, workflow optimization, asset tracking, inventory management, infant tracking and so on.

    In order for significant health care reform to take place, “meaningful adoption” truly is key to deploying health IT in general and healthcare RTLS solutions in particular. The potential for savings is truly remarkable when costs can be reduced while improving the quality of patient care.

    You are welcome to contact me via email ( or phone 866-257-2111 for more vendor neutral information about health care RTLS and RFID-integrated systems.

    Mika Lofton
    Dynamic Computer Corporation
    Dynamic RFID Solutions | Blog

  2. Kenny
    Aug 12, 2009

    Thanks Mika for you comments. We are very much in sync on “meaningful adoption.” As we see it, it will be about business performance, and to a large extent about tangible financial gains. We are finally at a point; however, where the infrastructure technologies and business applications are practical enough to deploy. The timing couldn’t be better for these things coming together.


  3. Clay Chase
    Nov 16, 2009

    David Hoglund’s white paper entitled: “Wi-Not Wi-Fi” is nothing more than a hit piece for AwarePoint and you lose all credibility calling it impartial. Each point can be easily shown to mislead the reader. It makes far more sense to supplement and maintain an existing Wi-Fi network than to installed an additional network that will be used for just one application.

  4. Kenny
    Nov 16, 2009

    Thanks Clay for contributing to the conversation.

    Hoglund’s piece was indeed sponsored by Awarepoint, whose Zigbee based technology is absolutely competitive to 802.11-based RTLS. Indeed the inherent variability that can make WiFi problematic for RTLS is also a potential risk for their approach as well. Our point of view on the subject is that customers should keep their eyes wide open and understand that there is no magic bullet here.

    What attracted me about the whitepaper were the larger points regarding the realities of deploying RTLS in general. The garden variety 802.11 network that we are likely to see in most hospitals today (even ones that have been designed for voice) is probably not going to meet enterprise RIFD needs on its own, especially if the customer is looking at this strategically, and imagining a broad set of applications that include more than just zonal asset tracking.

    One can’t fault the customers who wants to make the most of their existing WiFi investments, but the reality is that they are going to likely have to augment coverage (perhaps significantly), be prepared for ongoing tweaking, but also add in complementary technologies like passive RFID and/or IR to get the resolution that certain applications will require.

    Regardless of how you get there, there’s cost involved in the equation.

  5. CT
    Jun 15, 2010

    Hey, Clay, settle down there buddy. Certainly a hostile, inflammatory response absent of facts isn’t going to sway anyone on this forum. We’ve been through the tests, trials, and pilots. We’ve seen the results.

    Coming from a Wi-Fi vendor, I don’t think you should be calling anything impartial. David’s piece imparts solid business rationale. Just because it conflicts with your necessary view of the world doesn’t make it a “hit piece”. There are inherent flaws in RF from the standpoint of guaranteed room level accuracy. Zigbee tends to address those in a fairly cost effective way. Does Zigbee have design limitations and areas where it should be deployed with caution? Of course it does. (It’s RF.)

    But to attack David’s assumptions and conclusions without rebuttal speaks more to the quality of his expertise than to the motives of the attacker.

  6. David Hoglund
    Jun 18, 2010

    Wow, did I strike a cord or not! All validates the issues at hand. Yes, for the facts I did receive compensation for writing the white paper for AwarePoint. I wanted to write this because I saw many issues at hand. I have been around the WiFi area and RF area long before many on this blog. So pardon me, I think know a slight bit. Designed antenna systems in the 80s’s. So what I wrote was based upon providing some education. Let the end customer decide. If any WiFi company got twisted in the wind on this, well they have to ask one simple question. Why does not every hospital in the United States have WiFI RTLS deployed to room level accuracy? Why is not this solution being used to solve real business problems. So I will leave my emotions out of the area and focus on trying to solve the real and present healthcare issues of today. Thanks CT

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