In today’s healthcare environments, increasing operational efficiency and reducing costs whilst improving service to the patient are a constant challenge. The NHS is faced with increasing government pressure to reduce spending and stay within tightly controlled budgets. A key area of inefficiency and cost in many hospitals is the management of key assets.
The lack of visibility into the location of assets such as infusion pumps, ECG monitors and other high value medical equipment can cost a hospital thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, depending on the asset base. This is because staff’s time is used inefficiently looking for missing equipment and the cost of leasing and purchasing equipment to offset losses and theft. In addition, patients can experience unsatisfactory service as a result of long waiting times caused by this wasted time searching for assets.
Asset tracking is increasingly regarded as an effective way of addressing these inefficiencies. This type of solution enables a hospital’s wireless LAN infrastructure to actively track assets through the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, which are attached to key medical equipment. This technology is enabling hospitals to reduce the financial impact of the inefficiencies outlined above in three key areas – equipment utilisation; patient care and safety; and staff productivity.
Equipment that has been misplaced or stored away and forgotten about reduces utilisation and can incur delays in carrying out planned maintenance as the equipment takes so long to locate. For example, a large hospital in the UK lost track of 22 new infusion pumps within six months, making maintenance impossible. In another hospital, only 17% of equipment had planned preventative maintenance (PPM) performed by the required date for the same reason.
So what are the benefits of asset tracking through the use of RFID tags in terms of equipment utilisation? Equipment tends to get stored away, even hidden, in order to guarantee it’s availability for future use. Unfortunately, this means the equipment is redundant whilst stored and it often gets forgotten about, thereby becoming a wasted asset. This often leads to the practice of over procurement. Whilst a hospital may only need three endoscopes, it is frequently the case that more are ordered to ensure that a clinician can find one when it is needed. Asset tracking provides trusts with visibility of this equipment, and so there is no need to hide it away for future use. Further to this the same asset tracking principles can be used to track equipment that is simply misplaced. This further enables hospitals to reduce the burden of over-procurement.
In addition, we have seen in the press over the last year how high-value medical equipment is being increasingly stolen from hospitals. Tracking these assets makes theft more difficult as alarms can be raised if, for example, an endoscope leaves a certain zone.
Providing visibility of all tagged assets also reduces the amount of faulty equipment, as the biomedical engineering (BME) department can easily locate equipment such as IV pumps for regular maintenance.
An additional benefit is that asset tracking also enables detailed usage analysis of equipment, which enables better utilisation and sharing across a wider group of users.
Patient care and safety
The NHS treats more than a million people safely and successfully everyday and patient care and safety is paramount. However, the cost to the NHS in terms of prolonged stays is around £2 billion a year. Asset tracking can help in reducing this cost whilst improving patient care and safety. Using asset tracking solutions, a trust has visibility of items such as beds, air mattresses, IV pumps and endoscopes and can quickly assign them for use in critical situations. Medical staff can be sure that equipment they are using is in compliance because of the improved effectiveness of the BME maintenance program.
With easily locatable equipment, medical staff can spend more time treating patients, and can respond more efficiently to critical events. Tracking of beds and air mattresses provides improved visibility and allocation of free beds on patient admission. This improves patient turnaround and reduces overnight stays and can ultimately reduce the average patient stay, whilst improving the level of care offered to, and perceived by, the patient.
In one hospital, it was reported that approximately 30 minutes of a nurse’s time per day on each ward is spent searching for equipment. In another hospital, staff performed bi-annual equipment sweeps across the hospital taking two resources 14 weeks to complete each time.
Significant increases in medical assets may not be accompanied by an increase in BME staffing. This can place significant demand on the BME department to ensure that equipment is maintained properly. Asset tracking can reduce the amount of time spent by staff searching for medical equipment that is due for maintenance.
Improved staff productivity leads to improved morale across nursing and medical engineering staff because they can spend more time on the jobs that they are trained for. This can lead to better utilisation of the existing resources across multiple departments and teams.
It is clear that asset tracking technology offers some exciting prospects for the healthcare sector. However, it is important to remember that with any new technology, there needs to be a clear business case and clinical need. This article has focused on the business and operational challenges that are being faced everyday in hospitals across the UK. It also covers how technology can address these challenges and its benefits to asset management.
In the past, cost of implementation has been a barrier to adoption. This is changing – the cost of RFID tags has been regarded as expensive in the past but these costs are coming down. As a result, we are now seeing wider adoption of asset tracking in healthcare and given the significant cost reductions and improved operational efficiencies achievable with this technology, the business case is compelling.
Healthcare Sector Manager