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How Henry Ford Health created an indoor digital map

By using existing WiFi and a shared fleet of iOS devices with bluetooth asset tags, the health system was able to create a digital facility map without adding additional equipment.
By admin
Apr 4, 2022, 7:00 AM

When a major U.S. health system successfully implements emerging technology with an impact on clinical care delivery in the form of an indoor digital map to improve staff communication, the effort deserves a closer look.

Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) offers a case in point with its deployment of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and WiFi-based indoor positioning systems (IPS). Connecting these location-based technologies improved staff efficiencies, asset management, and the patient and visitor experience.

HFHS, based in the greater Detroit area, encompasses 6 million square feet of facility space, with some buildings interconnected by tunnels and passageways dating back more than 100 years. Like other health systems across the country, HFHS encountered challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, notably employee overwork, staff shortages, and scarcity of equipment and materials.

Related story: Maximizing scarce healthcare resources with data-driven, team-based care

The credo at HFHS became “doing more with less,” according to James O’Connor, the health system’s vice president of supply chain management. HFHS leveraged an IPS platform to target gains in clinical and support-services efficiency, with the end goal of increasing the productivity and reliability of patient transport and delivery tasks. Additionally, the IPS and BTE tags optimized device allocation in specific areas, such as IV pumps in nursing units.

“We primarily focused on less walking and using the IPS capabilities around location and proximity to better assign tasks, look for efficiencies, and eliminate pagers and similar devices utilized by environmental services and support staff,” said O’Connor. The rollout uses new technology layered upon existing infrastructure. 

The system pushes real-time updates via mobile app to a centralized command center to locate everyone in the building and assign the best available person to the appropriate task. The platform promotes improved communication between team members while enhancing visualization of task status, “reducing the friction at touchpoints along the way,” O’Connor explained. As a result, HFHS has achieved faster throughput of patients, shorter lengths of stay, and improved staff visibility.

O’Connor said the “secret sauce” in HFHS’s deployment is the ability to display the locations of team members and equipment on a detailed digital map of the facility without adding hardware or other infrastructure components. The system uses existing WiFi and a shared fleet of iOS devices. Further, BLE asset tags enable equipment location and management on the same platform, visible to any user in the building.

Digital mapping project takeaways

In sharing details of the HFHS rollout, O’Connor advised that hospitals and health systems pursuing a similar path should focus on the three P’s — people, process, and platform:

  • Leverage location visibility as the basis for smoother communication between dispatchers and staff and among people on different service teams. 
  • Regarding the process, employees should use a location-enabled smartphone to check-in/out at the start/end of every shift. 
  • Finally, aside from the location data derived from the WiFi-based IPS, the platform requires no additional hardware to stream information to a centralized command console.

O’Connor noted that use cases can be expanded once digital maps are created to enhance additional location-aware services. A deployment similar to the HFHS project is underway at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington, Mass.


Frank Irving is a Philadelphia-based content writer and communications consultant with specialties in healthcare, technology and sports. When not following those beats, he writes creative fiction.

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