How ‘Lost’ Equipment Impacts HTM Teams

Susan Martin, Vice President, Midmark RTLS



This article was originally published in 24/7 Magazine, with permission to reprint.

Like most sectors, healthcare is continually asked to do more with less. Biomedical and clinical teams, specifically, are becoming more creative in how they manage their equipment inventories, but it’s hard to deliver quality care, perform maintenance, or resolve recalls when that equipment is hidden. Plus, managing tight budgets and ensuring equipment replenishment doesn’t exceed healthcare organizations’ budgets is a challenge.

Technology solutions and digital tools, such as real-time locating systems (RTLS), can help biomedical and clinical teams efficiently locate equipment for quality patient care. In-the-moment equipment location is part of the value driver for technology, but it’s only half of the equation. Analytics that help identify trends for when an asset is in and out of use for patient care can help optimize inventory management in three ways: time, utilization, and communication.

Time Efficiencies

Keeping up with providing preventive maintenance is essential to patient care, but finding the equipment isn’t always easy.

Equipment often goes missing in healthcare facilities, and this complicates a biomed’s job of maintaining the fleet. IV poles, specifically, are a huge headache to track down. Nurses often place equipment in closets—sometimes even ceilings—because they are needed for every patient, every time. They want easy access to what they need and believe storing it in a “safe” place is best for patient care. Unfortunately, this comes full circle in more ways than one.

When the biomed team has recall or preventive maintenance work, they either waste valuable time searching, or they can’t find equipment at all—leaving unresolved maintenance work looming in the background. 

Efficiency is also key to reducing overall servicing costs as costs per work order are increasing. Biomedical teams are more conscious of the time it takes to resolve the issue. However, it’s difficult to measure the time between work order creation and closure if equipment isn’t easily located. The extra time spent tracking down equipment unnecessarily inflates the servicing metrics. Improving the process early and finding equipment quickly reduces the time to finish a work order. This not only boosts the accuracy of metrics, but it also enhances the experience of the equipment user.

The other impact lands on clinical teams themselves. They might think keeping equipment on standby helps patients, but what if they need equipment hidden by another staff member? Every shift, clinical teams spend an average of 30 minutes searching for equipment. This distraction simply results in lower quality patient care.

Utilization Efficiencies

More medical devices per bed are a result of the Internet of medical things. On average, each patient bed requires 10-15 pieces of equipment, resulting in large inventories for smaller biomed departments to manage. Without digital tools, trying to achieve in-the-moment replenishment can be overwhelming.

By combining location information with replenishment and utilization rules that alert biomedical or clinical departments, data insights can guide appropriate distribution and drive optimized fleet management. With proper management, systems can better identify available assets and reduce the need for buying new ones. One example: A large healthcare system in Flint, Michigan, leveraged Midmark RTLS and realized more than $1 million in capital expense savings, supported by utilization data for their hospital-wide IV pump inventory. What’s more, IV pump utilization surged from approximately 30% to 70%.

Besides saving on buying new items, an RTLS can help use rental equipment more efficiently by grouping assets using specific criteria. After all, keeping rental equipment several days longer than necessary can be costly for healthcare systems. Overestimating or returning late rental equipment can inflate operating expenses and divert funds that could be applied to other care areas.

Recognizing when equipment leaves an area or is found in unauthorized areas also helps prevent utilization losses. If tagged appropriately, equipment transferred to other facilities can still be viewed and easily retrieved, instead of recognizing it as lost. Tracking equipment is especially important when considering small items that can be mistakenly placed in the laundry, trash, drawers, or closets. These small missteps result in big consequences when the health system is forced to purchase equipment that could have been located.

Communication Efficiencies

Patient care should never be delayed due to missing or poorly utilized equipment. The better-informed the biomedical team, the more efficient the clinical team becomes. And when they are more efficient, they can jointly improve the continuum of care.

Showing clinical staff where equipment is and directly communicating its location helps reduce the effect of lost equipment on patient care. And allowing clinical teams to know where items are located reduces the need for biomedical teams to constantly track equipment or provide updates. Technology that automatically addresses replenishment and streamlines communication via automated alerts can also benefit biomedical and clinical teams.

Streamlining Asset Management

Standardizing equipment visuals and usage trends enables healthcare systems to make informed operational decisions. RTLS asset tracking and management offer digital tools to tackle efficiency issues and boost productivity.

New cloud-based systems provide a unified view across healthcare with one interface, reducing reliance on local IT management. Having options on how equipment is tagged and removing barriers, such as line-of-sight dependencies, also adds flexibility as to what can be tagged for location monitoring. Moreover, cloud-based systems in healthcare are easily scalable, quick to implement, and enable centralized management, ensuring consistency and a high return on investment.

Incorporating cloud-based RTLS for asset management involves a few key steps:

  1. Understanding your current state and identifying areas for improvement. Monitoring your key metrics and benchmark key metrics for efficiency such as: biomedical team search times; average time to resolve issues; clinical staff search times; rental return times; and average, minimum, and maximum daily usages of equipment.  
  2. Identifying vital equipment, tagging it, and ensuring the system can easily adapt to adding or modifying tagged items as needed.
  3. Allowing biomedical and clinical users access to the RTLS software to be self-sufficient with equipment searches. 
  4. Incorporating your location-based information and equipment location visualization to everyday processes. 
  5. Using the location information and system analytics to monitor processes and measure new efficiencies. Regularly assessing workflows and incorporating quality improvements into your routine. 

The trick to the last step is to collaborate with the health system’s RTLS partner, who should act as more than just a vendor. Expert coaching from system providers or independent consultants ensures swift and successful solution launches, while ongoing collaboration with trained coaches maximizes return on investment, workflow optimization, and staff adoption. And partnering with success coaches enables healthcare systems to design and improve processes, providing leaders with insights and support to boost staff satisfaction and the patient care experience.

Finally, deploying technology, such as RTLS asset tracking and management, helps alleviate stressors within biomedical and clinical departments. That’s why healthcare systems tasked with doing more with less should consider adopting solutions that drive increased efficiencies, capital investments, and patient care goals.