In all hospitals and health systems, the priority is always to ensure that effective medical care reaches the right patient at the right time. However, what many hospital leaders underestimate is how critical access to equipment can be in achieving this goal.

According to data gathered by GE Healthcare, the volume of clinical devices at a patient’s bedside has grown from an average of eight devices in 1995 to 13 devices in 2010. Yet the average hospital utilization of mobile medical devices is about 42 percent, meaning that more than half of a hospital’s fleet sits unused at any given time, the 2010 study found. Clinicians continue to hunt for devices, with nurses spending an average of 21 minutes per shift locating equipment. This chain of events leads some hospitals to rent or buy still more equipment. 

Using real-time location system (RTLS) technology to track equipment and patient flow, hospitals can put an end to equipment searching, low utilization and unnecessary clinical asset proliferation. The results are reduced costs and better patient care.

Virtua’s experience serves as an example.

A health system in New Jersey comprised of four hospitals, 885 beds and several additional facilities including two urgent-care centers, Virtua successfully cut equipment wait times and saved an estimated $1.2 million after deploying GE’s RTLS, AgileTrac. 

The process started in 2010, when Virtua was preparing to open a new replacement hospital in Voorhees, N.J. At the time, in order to locate one of Virtua’s 10,000 mobile medical devices, staffers often had to hunt through hallways and make multiple phone calls. But that changed after Virtua embarked on an initiative with GE to better monitor and assign beds, as well as the IV pumps, telemetry units and other mobile medical equipment nurses and doctors rely on to care for patients.

Virtua tagged each piece of equipment with an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag that enabled managers to track assets throughout the hospital on the computer, making it easier and quicker to find needed equipment. The RFID tags also helped management understand how and when staffers were most prone to use certain mobile technologies, which guided process improvements to boost asset turnaround for peak and normal demand scenarios. Prior to implementing this tracking system, Virtua’s average wait time between asking for a piece of “ASAP” equipment and receiving it was 202 minutes. The average wait time is now 12 minutes – an improvement of 94 percent. For “routine” equipment, which is not urgently needed, response time improved by 92 percent, or from an average of 184 minutes to 14 minutes. In the case of frequently used, high-demand equipment, such as IV pumps, AgileTrac alerts the equipment depot when inventories are low so that supply can be replenished before requests pour in.

Tracking technology didn’t only make administrative supervisors and nurses happy – the RTLS technology also aided biomedical departments in doing their jobs more effectively. Prior to deploying AgileTrac, members of Virtua’s biomed team would physically search for each piece of equipment that was due for preventive maintenance. Now, the biomed department can instantaneously pinpoint the locations of each piece of equipment traveling Virtua’s facilities. A recent example demonstrates how the technology made Virtua’s biomed technicians more effective. A nurse director asked the equipment depot department for a specific, multi-channel infusion pump used during an instance of patient care months before. Without AgileTrac in place, there would have been no way for the biomedical department to track down the exact unit without an asset serial number, RTLS tag number and date. Instead, biomeds at Virtua were able to find the exact pump used on that exact patient.

When clinicians know the location of the medical equipment upon which they rely, it saves both time and money. According to Moody’s Investor Services, the federal government will cut hospital reimbursements by more than $150 billion over the next decade as patient volumes grow; hospitals should seize this wide-open opportunity to strategically drive savings and patient care.

About the author

Michael S. Kotzen is executive vice president for population health management, Virtua. For more on GE Healthcare, click here.

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