What benefits does RTLS bring to the management of medical equipment?
In addition to sometimes lacking financial resources, the management of medical equipment often represents an obstacle to the hospitals’ optimal functioning. According to a Frost & Sullivan study, an average of 20% of equipment is lost each year, representing additional costs to replace them. Robberies are also sometimes observed. For instance, on December 24th 2020 at Poissy Hospital (Yvelines), a theft of five ultrasound machines with a total value of 500,000 Euros unfortunately took place.
Real-Time Location Systems can help to reduce equipment expenditure by avoiding theft and loss. It can also increase equipment utilisation rates to improve patient care.
First, geolocation can be used to improve the organisation of healthcare, especially by reducing the time needed to find equipment. Indeed, a patient arriving at the emergency room may not immediately be taken care of because nurses must first find a stretcher to transport him to the service. This search can take a considerable amount of time and be life-threatening if the patient is in an emergency state. Being able to act more quickly to provide care and save lives is therefore essential, and the ability to see available stretchers nearby on the hospital’s map can provide assistance to nurses.
Medical equipment can be grouped by family or category to make it easier to differentiate them on the map. For example, stretchers will appear in blue, while respirators will be in green and ultrasound machines in yellow. It will then be possible to select a single category of equipment to be displayed to facilitate the reading of the map in specific situations. Indeed, when a life-threatening or traumatic emergency arrives in the hospital, the nurse will only need to select the medical equipment he or she needs on the web or mobile application to be able to determine where the nearest available equipment is located. This feature is not only helpful in the emergency unit but can be used in other services also. For example, the ICU will find it practical to quickly locate needed equipment.
With RTLS, it is possible to view all equipment present in the hospital, but also to perform location searches, which significantly reduces the time spent to find equipment. This time previously spent searching for equipment can be spent on patient care. In addition, if an equipment is left in an area for too long and is not being used, the system can send a notification so that it can be returned to the appropriate service who will not need to buy new equipment. This helps increase the utilisation rate of equipment and reduce equipment expenditure.
RTLS can also facilitate inventory management by automating it. Indeed, in many hospitals such as the CHR of Orléans, inventories are still carried out manually, which takes a lot of time because the equipment must sometimes be checked more than once to avoid counting errors. With the application linked to the geolocation system, each type of medical equipment can be counted separately in order to save time when performing the inventory. This will also allow caregivers to anticipate and focus on patient care in the event of equipment shortages due to loss or maintenance.
Medical equipment theft is far more common than one might think. All devices can be targeted: small equipment such as endoscopes (about 20 devices stolen in 2017 at the Lyon Hospital Center), which are easy to steal and transport, but also bigger equipment such as respirators (March 2020 at the Paul d’Egine private hospital in Val-de-Marne).
RTLS can reduce risks of medical equipment theft by sending automatic alerts based on equipment movement. This is done by defining a virtual border beyond which a type of equipment should not be located: a geofence. This can range from the entire hospital, for beds for example, to a single department for more specific equipment. When medical equipment crosses one of these virtual borders, an alert is immediately sent to the security staff who will therefore be able to intervene quickly to stop the robbery.
Finally, the regulation for traceability and maintenance of medical equipment are key for their management. Hospitals are subject to strict legislation that requires healthcare personnel to communicate the precise identification of the equipment used during a surgery in the patient’s file. Established within the framework of “materiovigilance” (monitoring incidents that may occur with the use of medical devices), this regulation makes it possible to easily identify patients for whom a device belonging to a problematic batch was used. As this traceability must be effective from the moment the equipment arrives in the hospital, RTLS can facilitate this task: it will be easier for the hospital to follow the usage of the devices in the hospital as part of the logistical traceability, ensuring that each device is at the right place, at the right time. Similarly, if malfunctions are reported and the hospital has equipment belonging to this particular batch, it will be easier to locate them and return them to the supplier to avoid any potential risks for patients.
The maintenance of biomedical equipment is also subject to specific regulations, and is of three types: preventive (to ensure that the equipment is working properly and to change parts with a limited life span, subject to a pre-established schedule), corrective (to restore the equipment to working order after a malfunction) and predictive (to check the state of wear of parts to assess when an intervention will be necessary). This maintenance can be performed internally, i.e. by a team of biomedical engineers trained for it, but it is more often performed externally by a company, especially for complex imaging equipment.
By locating the equipment that needs to undergo preventive maintenance on the same day, it will be quicker to find and isolate it to avoid having staff using it until the maintenance is completed. Similarly, if a device is defective, it will be easy to locate it and to repair it, which will save time for the biomedical teams responsible for maintenance. Also, by repairing equipment more quickly, they will be functional again more quickly and will therefore have a higher utilisation rate.
Real-Time Location Systems assist healthcare personnel by automating low-added value tasks such as inventories and equipment search, so that they can spend more time with patients.