April 27, 2022

Keeping track of a health system’s clinical assets may sound like a simple goal. However, the modern healthcare environment significantly complicates the matter. Likewise, a single point solution may not address all the challenges associated with inaccurate device location and tracking. Healthcare leaders in operations, finance, facilities management, and clinical engineering participated in the latest TRIMEDX Industry Insights panel discussion to build awareness of this issue and explore potential applications.  

Unseen devices cause highly visible pain 

Reducing the number of misplaced medical devices is a crucial priority. Even the best-managed health systems often cannot locate 3-5% of their device inventory. This proportion may seem small, but it can represent hundreds of devices within a single care network and thousands of dollars in replacement costs. In our panel discussion, 58% of participants identified reducing the number of lost devices as the most critical challenge to solve with location and tracking technology. 

Interestingly, despite the persistence of this challenge, 50% of participants reported having experience with implementing device location technology in at least one area of their health systems. However, the discussions revealed that a lack of standardization could perpetuate the challenging blind spots that make lost devices so common. 

Misplaced devices also increase the risks of data breaches that could expose patients’ electronic health information (ePHI). 75% of infusion pumps have cybersecurity gaps.* If left unidentified and unaddressed, these vulnerabilities can expose health systems to costly and dangerous cyberattacks and data breaches. This risk becomes even more pressing when considering that 68% of clinical assets are expected to be network-connected by 2024. 

Finding lost devices and preventing them from being misplaced is the most apparent application of location tracking technology. However, the panel identified and offered perspectives on how health systems could use this technology to advance strategic goals. 

Managing a virtual stockpile 

Participants were particularly interested in a fundamental aspect of an effective location and tracking solution: streamlining resource allocation with a virtual stockpile. Many health systems fill gaps in their clinical operations by allocating devices from a physical stockpile. In this case, a designated physical location is often necessary to warehouse available devices. Without any other means of tracking, warehousing can keep these devices from being misplaced and ensure an accurate accounting of available resources. However, this approach has inherent inefficiencies. Warehoused devices cannot be utilized until requested and delivered. These devices must also be transported twice every time they go through the process: once to be warehoused and again to be reallocated. All that time spent in storage and transit is downtime that does not deliver value for the health system. 

On the other hand, a virtual stockpile can serve the same purpose with fewer tradeoffs. Listing devices for reallocation online with detailed information gives stakeholders within a health system the same visibility when searching for a piece of equipment. Device location and tracking tools are critical to this approach, as accurate location information can virtually eliminate the need for a designated storage site. No matter where devices are located across different hospital departments or even care sites, providers can still access them through the virtual stockpile. Without the need for physical storage, a surplus device could even still be available for utilization in the event of unanticipated demand spikes while still being flagged for reallocation. Additionally, eliminating off-site storage reduces the transit time needed to reallocate a device from one care environment to another, along with the required downtime that transportation requires. 

Controlling rented device costs 

Any underutilized device is undesirable for a health system. For a piece of equipment purchased with capital dollars, underutilization means not capitalizing on that investment. Unused rented equipment carries a unique financial consequence, as a health system could continue to rack up additional costs that deliver no value at all. This can often be the case with highly specialized rental devices that are not returned after being used for patient care. For example, a rented bariatric bed could be sent to storage after the patient using it is discharged instead of returned to a vendor. The stored equipment continues to accrue rental charges, even as it no longer contributes to patient care. 

This situation could be resolved quickly or even prevented with highly accurate medical device location tracking. Teams could use the tracking platform to identify rental equipment and evaluate where it is kept. Suppose a rental device is in storage or shows no movement indicating it is no longer in use for patient care. In that case, it becomes much easier to decide how necessary such rental equipment is. 

Supporting efficient patient workflows 

One of the most advanced potential applications the Industry Insights participants offered for medical device location tracking was intelligently managing resources for more responsive patient care. Such an application would require protocols for preparing patient rooms and other care environments for specific treatment pathways. The necessary devices for a care pathway would be a vital component. Care teams could use the information from device location tracking to know the moment a room or surgical suite is ready to accommodate a patient and the care procedures they need. This process could lend efficiency to patient throughput and emergency triage, properly executed and managed. I could even reduce the time nursing staff spends looking for equipment, which TRIMEDX data shows averages 44 minutes per shift.  

Using device location tracking technology to accelerate workflows would require rigorous data governance and collaboration between many different stakeholders within a health system. The panel participants were split on whether the responsibility for device location tracking technology should lie with operations, the COO, or clinical engineering teams. Conversely, the need for ongoing support from IT departments was unanimous. 

The debate on the ownership of medical device location tracking solutions underscores a crucial point: processes are just as crucial as technology. Participants emphasized that governance and communication are essential to success in every application. The organizational aspects of implementing device location tracking may seem daunting, but they speak to how the right technology can be used for success. A tool that offers accessible, centralized data across a health network is far easier to standardize. Capitalizing on the insights from comprehensive data to achieve greater benefits increases the incentive for more stakeholders to take an active role in driving savings, streamlining operations, and cutting waste. 

 

*https://unit42.paloaltonetworks.com/infusion-pump-vulnerabilities/