Open Access Open Badges Research article

A real-time locating system observes physician time-motion patterns during walk-rounds: a pilot study

David R Ward1, William A Ghali23, Alecia Graham3 and Jane B Lemaire13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, University of Calgary, Health Sciences Center 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N4N1, Canada

2 Institute of Public Health, Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Health Sciences Center 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N4N1, Canada

3 W21C Research and Innovation Center, GD01 TRW Building, 3280 Hospital Drive, NW, Calgary, AB T2N4Z6, Canada

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:37  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-37

Published: 25 February 2014



Walk-rounds, a common component of medical education, usually consist of a combination of teaching outside the patient room as well as in the presence of the patient, known as bedside teaching. The proportion of time dedicated to bedside teaching has been declining despite research demonstrating its benefits. Increasing complexities of patient care and perceived impediments to workflow are cited as reasons for this declining use. Research using real-time locating systems (RTLS) has been purported to improve workflow through monitoring of patients and equipment. We used RTLS technology to observe and track patterns of movement of attending physicians during a mandatory once-weekly medical teaching team patient care rounding session endorsed as a walk-rounds format.


During a project to assess the efficacy of RTLS technology to track equipment and patients in a clinical setting, we conducted a small-scale pilot study to observe attending physician walk-round patterns during a mandatory once-weekly team rounding session. A consecutive sample of attending physicians on the unit was targeted, eight agreed to participate. Data collected using the RTLS were pictorially represented as linked points overlaying a floor plan of the unit to represent each physician’s motion through time. Visual analysis of time-motion was independently performed by two researchers and disagreement resolved through consensus. Rounding events were described as a sequence of approximate proportions of time engaged within or outside patient rooms.


The patient care rounds varied in duration from 60 to 425 minutes. Median duration of rounds within patient rooms was approximately 33% of total time (range approximately 20-50%). Three general time-motion rounding patterns were observed: a first pattern that predominantly involved rounding in ward hallways and little time in patient rooms; a second pattern that predominantly involved time in a ward conference room; and a third balanced pattern characterized by equal proportions of time in patient rooms and in ward hallways.


Observation using RTLS technology identified distinct time-motion rounding patterns that hint at differing rounding styles across physicians. Future studies using this technology could examine how the division of time during walk-rounds impacts outcomes such as patient satisfaction, learner satisfaction, and physician workflow.

Physicians; Real-time locating system; Teaching rounds; Patients’ rooms; Movement; Workflow