As COVID-19 cases fill our health centers, location services–such as mapping, wayfinding, and resource tracking–become more urgent than ever. For instance, when you can’t find the ventilator that was on the floor yesterday, and have to make a staff person wander around to find it, you’re wasting time you can’t afford. And you’re also increasing the risk of infection for that staff person and for everyone else that comes by.
I recently interviewed Nadir Ali, Chief Executive Officer of Inpixon, about recent applications of location services in health care. Some of the new uses of their location-aware solutions include:
- Navigation. Intelligent maps can not only help people get to their appointments on time and reduce frustration, but help separate patients suspected of or diagnosed with COVID-19 from other people. They could be given directions on their cell phone, taking separate paths to their appropriate location. And if people get to zones off limits to the public, the system can notify the staff.
- Enforcing physical distancing. The system detects how many people are in a waiting room or other location, and gives staff visibility into zones with high density.
- Tracking the location of the COVID-19 vaccine within manufacturing or healthcare facilities, to make sure it moves as required from point to point.
Figure 1 shows some of the location metrics and graphics displayed by Inpixon.
Figure 1. This Inpixon dashboard communicates building zone health scores, crowd density, and areas that may need cleaning
The basic operation of a service like Inpixon relies on wireless data collection. First, the institution tags every asset it needs to track with a radio transmitter: for instance, ventilators, controlled substances, and now the precious COVID-19 vaccines that mustn’t go to waste. The tag itself could use Wifi or Ultra-Wideband (UWB) to send information. Wifi offers location accuracy within a few meters. UWB can be more expensive but offers greater precision. Ali said that Inpixon can locate a person or object within 30 centimeters using UWB.
Staff can wear their radio transmitter in badges, and patients on wristbands. For visitors and other non-staff people in the hospital, their cell phones offer their locations, albeit using Wifi instead of USB.
Tags have to be recharged after a period varying from one day to more than 60, depending on how often the system polls them. They can be charged in commonplace stations used for charging cell phones.
Now that tags or cell phones are indicating the locations of people and things, sensors collect the information and report it to a data repository, which the hospital sets up on-premises or in the cloud. This data can be encrypted and anonymized, and the institution can set up policies regarding deletion.
Analytics make sense of data and advise actions to the staff. Inpixon’s analytical capabilities are growing in sophistication. They offer patients and staff directions through the hospital that minimize time and risk. The system can also do automated contact tracing. For instance, if a staff member is tested positive for the virus, the system can recall that they went to the cafeteria at 12:15 PM the day before, and then find out who else was in that cafeteria around that time.
Customers of Inpixon include many VA and Defense medical facilities, along with private hospitals and a number of other institutions outside of health care. Some of Inpixon’s future plans include:
- Artificial intelligence to create highly personalized agents. They will offer information that takes into account the context and background of the person receiving the information. For instance, a person wrapping up an appointment could receive directions to the garage.
- Augmented Reality (AR). With indoor AR technology, a person could point their cell phone down the hallway and see arrows or even an avatar on the screen showing them where to turn.
- Employing next-gen Wifi and 5G.
Having gotten lost in hospitals and feeling like I was trapped in the alleyways of a medieval city, I can appreciate the benefits that location services bring. The increasing complexity of medicine, and the pressure to cut waste, will make them even more important.