A unit of GE Healthcares global Diagnostic Imaging Services business acquired Agility Healthcare Solutions today for an undisclosed sum. This is the same group that did the deal with Anywhere several years ago, and most recently signed a distribution deal with CenTrak, which was announced at HIMSS 2008 (press release).

What started as a straight on asset management strategy has grown in scope.

Any hospital administrator knows about the daily headaches caused by the logistical coordination of providing patient care. For each and every patient interaction, patient, clinician, staff, space, assets & supplies must come together at the same time. Agilitys visualization system is the one tool weve found that lets us visualize these interactions to predict and prevent bottlenecks before they occur, said Jeffrey Burke, Vice President and Regional Chief Information Officer, Bon Secours Health System.

The RTLS (real time location system) market’s initial focus was asset management. The industry consensus at the time was that asset management was easy to understand and had an attractive ROI – most hospitals lease some of their equipment that ends up poorly utilized due to hoarding and misplacing equipment. An RTLS can significantly reduce the amount of equipment leased through increased visibility and thus, utilization. Sadly, the hospital market was not sufficiently compelled to adopt this application (regardless of the ROI) at the rate that entrepreneurs and venture capitalists expected.

The founders at Agility, being software guys from McKesson, started with software. After some initial experience in the market they decided to stick with software and resell whatever infrastructure best suited their customer’s application. And the applications the market pulled them to are the kinds of things Bon Secours is doing.

Frequently mentioned in the same breath as Awarepoint, Radianse, or AeroScout, Agility’s software sits on top of an RTLS vendor’s positioning engine and infrastructure. Agility started the current bifurcation of the health care RFID market into infrastructure vendors and software vendors. Some vendors, like Radianse, RadarFind and AeroScout offer both positioning infrastructure and software beyond the positioning engine. Recent entries in the software-only category, and direct competitors to Agility, include Intelligent InSites and SenseIQ. As an aside, another product that reminds me of Agility is Awarix, the patient flow visibility app that McKesson acquired last year – except they typically sell it without an RTLS.

These vendors represent another interesting market trend with regards to product software architectures. Agility and their competitors use an engine oriented architecture made up of a rules engine, messaging engine, interface engine, database, dashboard and web server.  I first noted this last year:

The industry is going through a transformation that is challenging both vendors and buyers. On the technical side, the emergence of middleware solutions and what I call the “enginification” of applications is causing waves and lots of new areas are seeing automation for the first time. The single vendor solution model is braking down, both because the level of automation in hospitals is starting to exceed the ability of any “single application” to address it (not to mention the ability of a vendor to cobble one together through acquisitions), and IT architectures like SOA and web services are making middleware a natural solution for enterprise-wide services (think Emergin and event management). Likewise it seems that every new application has an engine for this and an engine for that – rules engines, messaging engines, interface engines, positioning engines – geez, they’re everywhere.

From a business strategy perspective, GE states their objectives with this acquisition:

Agility was one of the first companies to utilize RTLS to deliver workflow and resource management solutions to the healthcare industry, said Rob Reilly, general manager, GE Healthcare Services. By leveraging the AgileTrac solution and its integration with other hospital systems, GE Healthcare will be able to expand our capability to help hospitals proactively manage the unique needs of diverse patient populations.

Besides asset management, GE will be able to address patient flow, hospital wide or in select areas like the ED and OR. Additional applications sure to receive attention will be things like observation patient management, infection control, and things like ventilator toilet to minimize ventilator acquired pneumonia.