Reduce patient wait-times and excessive spending on replacing lost or stolen medical equipment by improving your healthcare asset tracking processes.
The healthcare sector is compiled full of diverse industries that, now more than ever, the UK public are heavily reliant upon. Whether that be drug manufacturers, suppliers of medical equipment, or private and public healthcare facilities such as the National Health Service (NHS).
But, the pressure to attend to the needs and requirements of so many people inevitably poses many challenges, one of which is excessive spending. So much so, that in 2018 the UK’s healthcare expenditure totalled £214 billion – 9.6% of the county’s total GDP. Most notably, among other costs, the two main operating expenses that cut into the healthcare industry’s bottom line were the acquisition of assets in the form of drugs, clinical supplies and medical equipment.
There are many factors within the healthcare industry that require a significant amount of attention from all personnel including staff, managers and administrators. For example, in private healthcare and hospitals, the health and well-being of patients is the number one priority for nursing staff. In fact, NHS nurses interact with over 1 million patients every 36 hours. But, when other operational components are introduced alongside a patient’s health, overall efficiency can begin to decline. One common cause for the decline in output-efficiency, seen in most healthcare operations, is the improper management of medical equipment.
Without an overview of all mission-critical assets, you’ll begin to experience issues within your operations. Two most notable challenges are the cost of replacing lost or stolen equipment and the increase in patient wait-time.
The array of assets found within the walls of a hospital and other healthcare facilities are vast. They range from blood bags, IV pumps, heart monitors and beds, to wheelchairs, surgical tools, personal protective equipment (PPE) and vials. Naturally, the procurement of medical equipment would have been accumulated and budgeted for in a yearly forecast. But, without the necessary means to keep track of purchased assets, the possibility of equipment such as PPE going missing or being stolen significantly increases. This means assets need to be replaced, thus taking a chunk from the bottom line that was not originally planned for. This is an issue that is experienced globally, with $4,000 worth of medical equipment being lost or stolen each year per hospital bed in the US alone.
Time management within healthcare operations is crucial, especially in a private healthcare or hospital setting; the sooner a patient is attended to, the sooner they’ll be able to leave and make room for another patient to be treated. Effective use-of-time can literally be the difference between life and death. But, delays are a common challenge, and the majority of these delays are caused by staff taking long periods of time to locate equipment. For example, if a nurse needs to use a medical device that has been misplaced, they’ll either spend time wandering the premises looking for it or consult a spreadsheet. In fact, in the US, 6000 hours is wasted per month on nurses tracking down lost medical equipment.
There are many other challenges that are affecting the operations of healthcare organisations in a similar way, such as:
Vital equipment being stored in a disorganised system
Needless spending on over-ordering of inventory items
In-accurate record-keeping of asset locations
Time wasted by updating manual inventory records (such as spreadsheets)
A high turnover rate of equipment due to lack of maintenance
The implementation of an asset tracking tool within an asset-heavy operation can have many advantages. This is especially relatable in an environment that is heavily reliant on its assets too, such as the healthcare sector. Having the ability to track every single asset throughout one or many facilities can:
Allow staff to quickly and easily locate medical equipment in real-time
Reduce procurement costs to replace lost or stolen equipment
Track an asset’s ROI and record a true value
Ensure accurate asset usage and performance data
Improve inventory management and accuracy
Create an efficient use of physical space and organised equipment storage
Although the lure of using spreadsheets to track assets can be tempting, given the low set-up and running costs, it can actually have a negative long-term impact. With thousands of medical equipment to register, the process of manually tracking and entering data can be daunting. This eventually poses a real threat to the way you track your healthcare assets; on average, human error through manual data input is costing businesses in the UK £98.6 billion a year.
The use of technology in software, such as asset tracking systems, is a relatively new concept that improves the accuracy and efficiency of data collection. The main function of tracking technology is to offer a real-time location system (RTLS) that provides data to the user at their request. This concept is possible with the use of IoT devices that talk to each other to collect, process and analyse data in real-time. IoT-enabled devices are available in many different forms, including:
Instead of choosing to integrate just one form of technology, most healthcare organisations can benefit from using a variety of tracking devices for tracking healthcare assets. For example, the use of barcodes and barcode scanners are great for smaller equipment and medical items such as drug bottles and blood bags. Whereas RFID and Bluetooth tags can be used on larger items such as beds, wheelchairs and heart monitors.
In terms of using IoT devices in a healthcare setting, the benefits are vast. One major benefit, for example, is the notification system that alerts staff to the whereabouts of important equipment. This not only reduced patient wait-time but it can also increase asset usability and reliability.
Other core benefits of introducing IoT into healthcare operations include:
Improving asset discovery through accurate location records
Automating supply and ordering processes
Reducing theft and loss of moveable assets
Tracking asset performance and usability to gain an accurate ROI
Reducing shrinkage of medical equipment and inventory
Decreasing downtime of critical assets with scheduled maintenance
Without access to an asset tracking tool or an RTLS, ordering and replacing your medical inventory is most likely a manual process. This opens the door to all types of errors such as over-ordering on equipment that you already have and an increase in waiting-time for orders to be placed. But, with an inventory tracking system in place, these challenges can be eliminated.
For example, with a centralised asset tracking tool in place, all nurses and staff can see the exact stock level of equipment and medications. A notification system then alerts staff when inventory is getting low, which notifies the right personnel to place an order. You can then go one step further and automate that ordering process by setting a triggered stock level for each asset.
If you opt for a cloud-based or SaaS asset tracking solution, you’ll be able to access all medical equipment data that has been stored in a centralised system via an internet connection. This allows for anyone with permission, such as nurses or clinical staff, to obtain data regarding particular assets. With 60% of UK employees already using apps for work-related activity, the implementation of mobile asset tracking can be a welcomed addition to healthcare operations.
For example, in a hospital setting, the staff won’t be restricted to using a designated computer at the nursing station to help them locate equipment. Instead, they can access the correct data instantly from a handheld mobile device without moving around the premises. Thus, improving time management and efficiency in their operations.
Other notable benefits of implementing a mobile asset tracking system, including:
Instant access to data such as location, usage and inventory level
An increase in accurate real-time asset data
Being able to access data when working in the field or away from the premises
An increase in patient wait-time has always been an on-going challenge for hospitals. And, a major factor in this, is the time it takes to locate the right equipment. For example, when a patient is first admitted, hospital staff will need to make sure they have a bed free. If not, this admission is delayed until a bed is available.
The use of a mobile device in this scenario is particularly useful when it comes to needing the right equipment to treat patients. For example, if a patient is to undergo a blood transfusion, the right blood bag has to be located and ready. With a device in-hand, a nurse can instantly see the location of the blood bag and track it down.
Not only is access to real-time location data useful, but healthcare staff can also benefit from accurate and automated inventory management. This allows personnel to be notified when a low-stock trigger has been activated and instantly order more of that asset directly from a handheld device. Eventually, reducing the risk of equipment and medication being out-of-stock when needed the most.
Once you’ve highlighted the importance of tracking healthcare assets, it’s time to find the right solution. As there are many different types and forms of asset tracking tools on the market, you’ll want to make sure you’re implementing the right one. It’s important to remember that the right asset tracking solution for someone else, might not be the best choice for your operations.
By following this quick 3-step guide, you’ll be on a path to finding the right solution that matches your operational needs:
Identify the challenges and gaps in your current healthcare asset tracking processes
Highlight the core features you need to help close your asset tracking gaps
Shortlist, compare and evaluate your list of vendors and products
Once you’ve realised the financial and time-management gains that an asset tracking tool can offer, you’ll want to identify the processes that are causing the biggest challenges in your operations. To help form an understanding of the areas you need to improve in, ask yourself the following questions:
Are you spending more on replacing lost or stolen equipment, such as PPE?
Do you find equipment and medication to be out of stock when needed the most?
Is the average wait-time for treating patients increasing?
Are you experience a high turnover rate of valuable and costly assets?
Is excessive equipment downtime affecting staff operations?
As with most software packages, the tools and features can be vast and overwhelming. In order to fully understand the features that you required to enhance your own healthcare operations, it’s best to create two groups:
Essential features: These are made up of the requirements needed to close the gaps in your asset tracking processes.
Non-essential features: These are features that are nice to have, but do not directly affect your current issues.
By using this method, you will then have produced a list of your core requirements. This list is essential to have when going into the final stage of your journey.
Once you’ve scanned the marketplace for suitable healthcare asset tracking solutions that match your core requirements, it’s time to evaluate the options. This not only means comparing products but also comparing the vendors that are offering their services.
A great way to to do this is to draw up a list of questions that are relatable to your core requirements. Such as:
Can the system be integrated with IoT devices such as RFID and Bluetooth?
Is it a cloud-based product that can be used with mobile devices?
Can the product be integrated with other healthcare software and systems?
Will your workforce be able to easily navigate through the product or do they require training?
Is the vendor experienced in dealing with organisations in the healthcare sector?
For a more detailed look into choosing the right asset tracking software, read our Asset Tracking Software Buyer’s Guide.