Some patient access departments are tracking patients’ locations in registration areas to provide better service, with plastic tracking badges, wristbands, or the patient’s own smart phone. The following are benefits of this practice.

  • No overhead paging is needed.
  • Patients don’t need to wait for their name to be called.
  • Families can be updated more quickly.

Instead of having patients stand in a line to register or wait for their names to be called, wouldn’t it be wonderful if registrars could simply walk up to them?

Plastic tracking badges allow this by broadcasting patients’ locations in real time, but the technology is “both early and costly,” says Anthony Gordon Brooke, vice president of ambulatory engineering at GetWellNetwork, a Bethesda, MD-based provider of patient engagement solutions.

The tool also has limitations. Since GPS doesn’t work indoors, tracking badges use cellular signals, which are limited to 300 square feet maximum. “It requires a specialized network to be installed,” notes Brooke.

Wristbands also could be used to track patients. “But instead of spending budget on badges and wristbands, use the patient’s smartphone to track and guide them,” suggests Brooke. “Nearly all patients come with their own smartphone, and all broadcast a unique signal.”

This allows registrars to track the patients’ general whereabouts, and also to offer the patient guidance through the intake process. “We have also been working with facial recognition to determine that a patient has arrived,” reports Brooke.

No Overhead Paging

Registrars use a real-time locating system at the Josie Robertson Surgery Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Every patient and each family has a badge that allows registrars to locate them at any time. “We thus have no overhead paging,” says Brett Simon, MD, the center’s director. “Our waiting area has a serene and peaceful atmosphere.”

Instead of calling out names in the waiting area, registrars locate the person on their computer screen. “They walk over to them to give updates or information directly,” says Simon. Families frequently want to know how things are progressing, and when they can expect the patient to be out of surgery and have visitors.

“Families love it. It gives them the information they need without having to ask someone at a desk,” says Simon.

In addition, the following are some other unique features of the check-in process at Josie Robertson Surgery Center.

  • Monitors in the waiting area prominently display the patient’s progress.

Coded patient identifiers are used for confidentiality. “Families can see where their loved ones are in the process, and when they are ready for visitors,” says Simon.

Families are informed of the identifier, which is a combination of the patient’s initials and month/year of birth.

  • Waiting areas were designed using the concept of “campsites.”

“Loosely divided spaces allow groups large and small to feel like they ‘own’ their area, while maintaining an open, airy atmosphere with abundant natural light,” says Simon.

  • All registration is handled before the day of surgery.

All outstanding issues, such as insurance, pharmacy, or demographic information, are handled by patient access, so there are no delays when patients arrive.

“This helps ease patient anxiety on the day of their procedure. Patients aren’t scheduled for surgery if there are outstanding registration issues,” says Simon.

Patient check-in is handled quickly by unit assistants, supported by a nurse liaison who is available to manage any issues.

“These features give patients and their caregivers privacy, access to information at their convenience, a serene atmosphere, and a degree of independence at an often difficult and vulnerable time,” says Simon.


  • Anthony Gordon Brooke, Vice President of Ambulatory Engineering, GetWellNetwork, Bethesda, MD. Phone: (240) 482-3200. Fax: (240) 482-3201.