Innovation

  • One of New Jersey's largest health-care companies is using location-based data from a Connexient solution to provide its patients and visitors with automated wayfinding that can be integrated with their health records and appointments app.

    Mar 24, 2019—New Jersey health network Hackensack Meridian Health (HMH) is expanding its Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon-based digital wayfinding and indoor navigation system, provided by navigation technology company Connexient, to a second hospital. That deployment follows the patient wayfinding solution launch at its Hackensack University Medical Center location. The second deployment will take place at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

    Additionally, the company is implementing integration between the location-based software from Connexient and its own Epic MyChart appointment scheduling and management features within its HMH Well Mobile application. It is also moving toward a more streamlined system that it can easily deploy at all locations. HMH operates a total of 17 hospitals and more than 500 ambulatory care centers, along with fitness, rehabilitation and home health service centers.

    Hospitals and clinics, by their very nature, can be difficult to navigate, especially for first-time patients. That not only makes visits more time-consuming or stressful for patients, but can also cause scheduling delays, according to David Reis, HMH's executive VP and CIO. The confused look of patients lost in a large unfamiliar building has not gone unnoticed by HMH's management, he adds. As early as 2011, HMH began looking for ways to use technology to help patients navigate their way around its buildings and find the quickest path to the departments at which they are expected.

    Hackensack Meridian Health's HMH Well app and the wayfinding solution were taken live around 2017, Reis says. The system has since gone through several iterations, he adds, during which the facility tested the beacon technology at one site. The firm has been expanding the deployment to other locations, as well as integrating the software.

    HMH Well is a patient portal and app solution that enables patients to access their records and appointments. The goal, according to Geoff Halstead, Connexient's chief product officer, is to integrate the location-based data from Connexient with the HMH Well app, so that patients can have their appointment location information automatically linked to their location data for automatic wayfinding while they are onsite.

    Beginning late last year, HMH began working with Connexient to provide tighter integration between the wayfinding solution and the patient portal, and to move toward a system that could be more easily deployed at any facility. HMH has been installing additional beacons in order to gain more granular location data.

    While the system has been traditionally used simply to improve patients' navigation of its health-care facilities, the firm expects in the future to be able to utilize the data to understand and improve the flow of patients and visitors, as well as patient experience at the hospital. "Phase one is to get out there, get it used," Halstead says, while phase two will be to understand the flow of people between departments.

    Connexient's MediNav system consists of software and integration to manage data about an individual's location anonymously, based on transmissions from a phone responding to a beacon, and to then provide wayfinding data to the HMH Well mobile app. A patient makes an appointment, either traditionally (via telephone) or using the HMH Well App, then visits the facility on the appointment date. The hospitals have a total of 1,368 beacons installed in the Hackensack University Medical Center alone, for a highly granular understanding of location.

    When a user's phone detects the beacon transmission. The software in the phone's MediNav application uses tri-lateralization that measures signals from BLE beacons. It also employs what Halstead describes as "a variety of sophisticated inertial navigation techniques incorporating inputs from the compass, accelerometer and the map itself." Location data calculated by the phone can then be transmitted to MediNav cloud-based server for either location-sharing features (such as a Meet Me feature) or location-based analytics.

    With integration to the My Chart system, the app knows where a patient is going and can begin providing directions to that site, displaying his or her presence in the form of a blue dot on a facility map. Prior to the solution's integration, users needed to input the name of the department or physician they were trying to reach.

    The wayfinding solution has made it easier for patients and visitors to reach their destination, Reis says, and has appeared to reduce confusion in the hallways. But in the long term, he thinks the technology can offer more advantages—not only to patients, but to health-care providers and administrators as well. Health-care personnel could utilize the system to identify if patients are on site, for instance, and to notify them that the department they will be visiting is ready for them. In the event of a delay, the system will alert patients that they can pass the time at a coffee shop, for instance, before going to their appointment.

    In the long term, HMH plans to employ GPS technology outdoors, along with the beacons, to enable the tracking of individuals' locations before they reach the hospital. The system will also monitor visitors in the parking area so they can be guided to the best parking spot, and will help them more easily locate their car after their visit has concluded.

    In addition, Reis says, the solution could further improve the patient experience by enabling visitors to view their location on digital signage throughout a facility. This could be especially of value to children who may not be checking their phones. The system would identify a particular phone in the area, link it to the patient's visit and automatically display on the sign where that individual should go next.

    For the next phase of the deployment, the company plans to collect information regarding traffic patterns, including how long it takes individuals to move from one location to another, as well as where bottlenecks occur and where visitors often take wrong turns. HMH also intends to begin analyzing data to determine if the wayfinding technology has made appointment scheduling more efficient. "We are looking at that content now to see if arrival rates are more on time," Reis says. "Anecdotally, we're seeing [fewer] patients with that lost look" as they try to find their destination.

    The Connexient solution can enable patients and visitors to connect with each other—for instance, when a patient is finished with his or her appointment and is seeking friends or family members. The app's Meet Me feature enables patients to view where those individuals are at any given time.

    According to Halstead, the technology can be used for more than just wayfinding. For example, maintenance personnel can utilize the solution to report issues such as a spill or a broken device requiring repair or inspection. "Patient experience is the first killer application," he states, "but the biggest ROI [return on investment] could be on the operations side." The system can also be used to locate individuals and assets (wheelchairs or infusion pumps, for example), provided that beacons are attached to those items, and provide navigation between them.

    Moreover, the technology could be employed to manage employees' movements and clinical workflows. Halstead says the company is agnostic when it comes to hardware. Hackensack Meridian is using beacons at the Hackensack University Medical Center, while the Jersey Shore University Medical Center is in the planning and rollout phase.

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