The healthcare sector consists of diverse operations such as drug manufacturers, suppliers of medical equipment, private hospitals, retirement homes, and public healthcare facilities such as the National Health Service (NHS). Within each of these operations exists hundreds and thousands – if not millions – of assets.
The overwhelming pressure to efficiently manage assets while attending to the needs of patients, suppliers, and employees can inevitably pose several challenges. One such challenge is coping with excessive spending.
In 2018, the UK’s healthcare expenditure totalled £214 billion – that’s 9.6% of the country’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.
Remarkably, one of the main reasons why healthcare facilities continue to spend excessive amounts on their assets is due to medical equipment being stolen or going missing.
To help combat this, hospitals need to look at implementing an asset tracking process either in the manual form of spreadsheets or in the form of Asset Tracking Software.
Why Is Asset Tracking So Effective In Hospitals?
Implementing asset tracking protocols can reduce the number of situations where an asset is unexpectedly unavailable. As well as tracking down an asset that might have gone missing.
If an asset needs to be tracked down manually, this can have a negative impact on productivity. In fact, it’s estimated that nurses spend around 6,000 hours a month searching for equipment.
Installing an asset tracking system in hospitals can help to support patient care and improve the entire patient experience. It can also notify staff when equipment requires maintenance, which helps to ensure assets remain compliant.
Chemical waste and equipment disposal are also important to track and manage, as hospitals are responsible for the medical waste they produce. They need to ensure that these items are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
The Basic Functions of an Asset Tracking Tool
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
What About Using Spreadsheets?
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.
What Medical Assets Can Be Tracked?
Medical tools can have significant value, which is one of the reasons why asset tracking and asset management are an important investment in the healthcare industry. The range of assets in a hospital, both physical and non-physical, are vast. They include:
- Medical waste
- IT hardware
- Patient documents
Hospitals and medical facilities may often be spread across multiple sites, which can prove challenging when manually managing assets. Having accurate and up-to-date visibility of assets and inventory can help facilities in a number of different ways, such as calculating accurate asset depreciation figures and facilitating bulk procurements. Both of which can offer significant cost savings.
Challenges of Tracking Assets in Healthcare Facilities
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:
1. The Cost of Replacing Medical Equipment
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.
2. The Increase in Wait-Time For Patients
Time management within healthcare operations is crucial, especially in 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
Using IoT to Improve Hospital Asset Management
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 asset tracking tools are available in many different forms, including:
- RFID asset tracking tags
- Bluetooth tags
- GPS trackers
- QR codes
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
Can IoT Help Automate Inventory Management?
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.
Deploying Mobile Asset Tracking in Hopsitals
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
Can Mobile Devices Reduce Patient Wait-Time?
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.