Lost and stolen equipment costs the healthcare industry millions each year. In 2015, the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, CA, reported 383 items missing from 2010 to 2014, valued at more than $11 million. Last year, more than $50,000 of pilfered equipment surfaced on eBay after disappearing from United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, NY. Investigators said the total could be much higher.
What can be done
To stem the problem, some hospitals are turning to new technologies that track equipment throughout the hospital and beyond in real time. Wireless tracking tools like real-time location systems (RTLS) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) not only help prevent loss and theft but also help inform asset management, maintenance and purchasing decisions. A survey by Nursing Times suggests nurses spend roughly one week a month hunting for equipment and supplies. The time wasted can slow response times and delay procedures, compromising patient safety. A majority of nurses said they would welcome technology to track hospital items.
According to a report by MarketsandMarkets, the global healthcare asset management market is expected to reach $29.6 million by 2020, up from just $6.7 million in 2015. Among the factors fueling growth are concerns about patient safety and staff productivity. “They protect against theft. They also provide better control over inventory and capital equipment,” says Tracy Donegan, practice director at Top Tier Consulting.
However, such tracking systems are expensive which could be an adoption barrier in mid-size and smaller hospitals. Although the need for better asset control suggests their use could increase.
In the field
Within the hospital industry, RFID, RTLS and ultrasound and infrared tags are the primary technologies used to track and manage items.
One such device is the ElectroClave Mobile Device Management system with UV disinfection, manufactured by Seal Shield. The device manages mobile devices via cloud-based oversight and proprietary disinfection technology. For example, it charges devices, reimages or syncs them and disinfects, all in 13 minutes. It also allows asset allocation and asset tagging, says Scott Filion, chief sales officer at the Jacksonville, FL-based company.
If a hospital is issuing mobile devices to staff, the device is tagged with an RFID antenna and synced to the employee’s identification. The ElectroClave acts like a network administrator type of software that sits behind the hardware and compiles data and shows live inventory, allowing managers to know who cleaned what, when, how and where, Filion explains, adding customers can compile user histories and trends to assess user compliance.
Currently, five organizations are piloting the systems, including Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare, Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut and Kaiser Permanente’s Anaheim Medical Center in California. The 90-day pilots are “going very well,” says Filion. “We expect to see early adopters toward the end of this year and mass adoption throughout 2018 and 2019 as mobility continues to grow.”
The system retails for around $10,000 and comes with up to 100 FRID stickers that affix to mobile devices.
While the initial platform focuses on mobile devices, Filion says customers are requesting for other types of equipment — infusion pumps, blood pressure cuffs and more— and Seal Shield plans to develop a “suite of cabinets” to address various needs.
Outside the fence
With shorter inpatient stays and more patients being treated at home and in nursing facilities, there’s also a need to track equipment outside the hospital. Micron makes a device that combines GPS and WiFi to locate medical products for its customers.
The company did a deployment last year for a national pharmacy chain that rents infusion pumps to nursing home and other entities. “They’ve been able to track over 3,700 devices they have out in the field,” says Peter Muldoon, VP of sales at Micron.
Tracking inventory in real time gives organizations the level of visibility they need to maximize their resources, says Adam Peck, VP of marketing at RTLS provider CenTrak. Hospitals can avoid overbuying assets because they don’t know where they are.
Donegan from Top Tier Consulting agrees. “In terms of purchasing power, when you have a better handle on your product inventory, you know how they’re utilized, how much they’re utilized, which sort of plays into when they need to be serviced, but also … if there are supplies associated with them, how many supplies you need to order.”
Organizations are also in a better position to negotiate when equipment needs to be replaced, she says. “It’s better reporting, better control.”