How To Choose The Best RTLS Platform: Moving Beyond Simple Asset Tracking

There are five major elements that should determine the RTLS system (hardware + software) that a hospital or clinic chooses to power s desired use-cases. Accuracy, Initial Cost, Operating Cost, Network Connectivity, and Smart Clinics and Smart Hospitals.


Hospitals and Clinics need either room-level accuracy or ‘near-room level’ accuracy to power the major RTLS use cases (Workflow, Scheduling, Analytics, Smart Hospital). There are multiple technology types that can achieve this accuracy – Infrared, WiFi, Ultrasound, UWB, and BLE are the most notable.

Multiple hardware and software vendors exist that offer Infrared, WiFi, Ultrasound, and UWB based RTLS systems. When configured and deployed properly, they can all achieve room-level accuracy.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) based RTLS systems offer many advantages, but take advanced software to ensure room-level or near-room level accuracy. At Apprentice Health, we’ve designed the first peer-reviewed RTLS software system that reliably achieves near-room or room level accuracy.  We’re able to leverage hardware from multiple BLE hardware manufacturers in order to best match your needs and prevent hardware lock-in.

Initial Costs

Infrared, WiFi, Ultrasound, and UWB based RTLS systems all require high upfront capital expenditures. They typically require cabling and higher cost sensor relay infrastructure. Although UWB prices are decreasing, all of these methodologies rely on technology components that are not widely used across multiple industries, and as a result, hardware prices are still high. Cabling and wiring make it hard to plan installations and inevitably delay installations.

Bluetooth Low Energy based systems, however, rely on inexpensive IoT gateways and existing Wi-FI connections. The technology components are widely used in mobile devices and industrial IoT and are plummeting in price.  As the Bluetooth ecosystem continues to have robust innovation, BLE RTLS systems will be widely supported in the decades to come.  

At Apprentice Health, we’ve been able to lower BLE infrastructure costs to the point that we bundle our own RTLS system (hardware + software) with our data science modules so that healthcare teams don’t have to pay high upfront costs. With select Apprentice Health RTLS and data science-driven software modules bundles, we completely wave all upfront capital expenditures and only charge subscription fees.

However, not all BLE systems are created equally and require the right mix of hardware and software to achieve near-room level or room-level accuracy. We’ve been installing BLE RTLS systems for over two years now, so talk to us before investing in a new BLE RTLS system, as not all systems will have the required accuracy.

Even if you opt for a higher-cost legacy RTLS system, you can still use this RTLS data to power the Apprentice Health data science modules. 

In the end, RTLS as a category has a proven ROI for multiple use cases. It is better to choose an RTLS system over none at all.

Operating Costs

Infrared, Ultrasound, and UWB tags are significantly more expensive than BLE tags.

BLE based RTLS systems are the way of the future. BLE beacons are inexpensive and their prices continue to fall given BLE’s extensive use in industrial IoT and mobile phones.

In this category, BLE is the clear winner and will set up clinics and hospitals to have lower expenditures over the long haul.

Network Connectivity

Legacy RTLS and BLE systems do not connect to all modern hospital networks. Most systems can’t handle WPA2 enterprise authentication, network certificates, or 5 GHz WiFi bands.

At Apprentice Health, we’ve selected hardware manufacturers that can securely connect to all enterprise networks.

Smart Clinics and Smart Hospitals

In the very near future, location data will be combined with multiple sensor inputs (voice, motion, and physical interfaces) to provide a complete Smart Clinic experience. Smart Clinics and Smart Hospitals require interoperability and only BLE is widely supportive of the IoT Gateways that also enable audio and vision processing. At the Apprentice Health laboratories, we’re already designing the complete smart clinic and smart hospital. We believe that BLE enabled IoT Gateways will serve as one of the foundational technologies of the smart hospital, so work with us to enable this experience for your patients and staff.

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