What is RTLS? A Comprehensive Guide, From RFID to BLE

May 26, 2022

Discover what RTLS really is, how it works, why it’s important, and the different options available.

RTLS, or real-time location solution(s), refers to insight-driven tools that hospitals and other major entities rely on to kick start their digital transformations by prioritizing efficiencies in workflow and management.

Cox Prosight is a RTLS solution specifically designed to help hospitals gain real-time visibility into the status, location, and optimal utilization of medical equipment, assets, people, and environments crucial to a facility’s flow and success. Read on to discover more about what RTLS really is, how it works, why it’s important, and the different options available. 

Defining Real-Time Locating Systems, a.k.a. RTLS

RTLS is defined, in simple terms, as real-time location solutions/systems, and is oftentimes also referred to as real-time tracking systems. 

These solutions are used to automatically identify and track the location of objects or people in real-time — typically within a confined area or building (like a hospital). These systems allow staff to track assets and efficiency in a manner.

How RTLS Works 

In terms of the actual operations of RTLS, there are a few different approaches and applications. 

Usually, wireless RTLS tags or Bluetooth technology are attached to whatever is being tracked — people (typically staff) or objects — and the system follows their actions, using a visual system to depict movements. For example, think about attaching a tag to a pallet in a warehouse. Managers and supervisors are able to follow the movement of said object, understanding its location, how it’s moving, and when its contents will be delivered to the end destination. Or on the other hand, if the pallet somehow gets misplaced, it’s easily located. All of this is extremely valuable data used to inform business flow and areas in need of improvement, which are priceless in determining decisions and priorities. 

In short, effective RTLS technology gives business leaders the ability to improve how systems and infrastructure work.

Why RTLS Is a Vital Pillar of Successful Healthcare

Utilizing RTLS technology is becoming more and more important for finding success in the healthcare industry. Not only can RTLS improve the patient wayfinding experience and provide an effective system for medical equipment asset tracking, but it gives healthcare administrators a bird’s eye view of their healthcare operations. 

By capturing this data, leaders can understand where their care services are working, but more importantly, where they need improvement. 

Like anything, consistent self-evaluation will cause growth — and without it, competitors will take the lead. Our RTLS platform is an effective tool for self-examination and can give hospitals a new tool for improving their overall healthcare experience.

The Origins of RTLS Technology

RTLS technology has constantly evolved since its inception. It was originally created in 1946 by Russian physicist Leon Theremin. In the most basic sense, RTLS is a combination of radar and radio broadcast technology.

Currently, there are two dominant forms — RFID (radio frequency identification) and BLE (Bluetooth low energy). 

RFID is obviously based on radio frequency, requiring various hardware components like tags, readers, antennas, and application software. It’s a little bit more archaic in practice.

On the other hand, BLE was created only a few years back, utilizing modern Bluetooth technology to track. BLE still requires hardware like tags or sensors, but it isn’t augmented through radiofrequency. Instead, it utilizes gateways and software through smartphones and other devices. 

There are various schools of thought on which route is the most effective RTLS technology.

RFID vs BLE: What’s the Difference? 

Should you consider RFID or BLE for your RTLS technology? That’s a good question. 

As stated, RFID is rooted in radio frequency technology. And at this point in time, that technology is fairly dated. It requires a bunch of different (and potentially frustrating) elements — like ensuring you’ve got enough antennas to track properly and other obstacles that should be foreign in a world where everybody carries a computer in their pocket.

Meanwhile, BLE utilizes that computer in your pocket, offering an easy-to-implement system that uses readily available technology. 

Another way to look at it is that BLE is embracing the future, while RFID is relying on the past. 

For example, the newer technology of BLE allows it to react and grow in the industry, equipped for any potential obstacles that might come your way. It offers low-power wireless technology, allowing devices to communicate with each other while extending battery life. It’s also ideal for short-range communication, and almost all smartphones and tablets are BLE compatible.

Why You Should Consider BLE Over RFID

These days, RTLS technology is pretty much required in order to run a successful operation — especially in the healthcare world. Considering factors such as ease of use, ease of implementation, and advances in technology, the benefits of BLE seem to outweigh those of RFID.

We’re constantly thinking about how to improve RTLS technology. Our innovative approach to BLE has created a cost-effective platform that’s easy to implement and operates through smartphones. We’ll help you improve the efficiency of your operations while eliminating current and future headaches.

To get started on your hospital’s digital transformation today, look no further than Prosight’s suite of solutions and contact us today!

Jaiganesh Balasubramanian
Director, Product and Technology

Jai is a product and technology executive with demonstrated history in building and growing several brands and businesses in the Smart building and Healthcare space. Jai joined Cox Prosight in 2020 and is responsible for developing and executing the company’s Smart Hospital strategy, including solution and partnership development, investments, acquisitions, and business growth. Prior to Cox, Jai led the development and management of IoT smart and connected building technologies with a specialty in building automation systems and location-based solutions and has a track record of achieving growth and penetration into new market segments. Jai holds an MBA from Cornell University and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from Northern Illinois University. Jai, his wife, and two children live in Atlanta, GA.