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Asset Tracking in Healthcare and Hospitals

The Importance of Asset Tracking in Healthcare

Asset tracking is the practice of monitoring the location and condition of physical business assets through a dedicated software system. In the context of healthcare organizations, this process involves managing a wide range of medical assets including medication, supplies, and hospital machinery. Insights are typically gained through advanced technology like real-time location systems (RTLS).

For healthcare organizations, managing assets effectively is important for businesses. A healthcare facility, like hospitals, manage an unprecedented number of assets. Failing to keep tabs on these assets with real-time insights can increase the amount of time it takes to locate the items, while escalated instances of theft, loss, and deterioration can eat into an organization’s finances.

For these reasons, the majority of healthcare organizations could benefit from asset tracking systems, especially those managing a high volume of assets, like hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, community health centers, and mobile clinics.

Different Types of Trackable Healthcare Assets

The type of asset you may need to track will depend on your specific healthcare organization. For instance, a multi-site hospital will have very different asset tracking needs to a local pharmacy. However, here are some general examples of trackable medical assets:

  • IT hardware, like computers and printers
  • Patient documents
  • Medication
  • Medical waste
  • Hospital beds
  • Ventilators
  • Wheelchairs
  • Diagnostic imaging systems

Benefits of Asset Tracking Software in Healthcare

The amount of tools, equipment, and stock that healthcare facilities have to manage is almost endless. Here are some reasons why you should monitor assets with a dedicated system:

Improve operational efficiency

Automating manual processes and making sure every single healthcare asset is accounted for will make it easy to locate important assets. Logging changes into a secure system also makes sure each item is accounted for, helping to improve worker peace of mind, and reducing inefficiencies associated with lost or misplaced products.

Save time

Healthcare facilities (like hospitals) tend to be large, busy, and filled with thousands of assets. This can make locating equipment cumbersome, with research from GS1 UK revealing nurses could spend the equivalent of 40 hours per month searching for equipment.

Smart asset tracking software can drastically minimize search times, helping staff to locate assets in a matter of seconds. This will help free up worker time and improve the wider operational efficiency of an organization.

Unlock powerful data

Asset tracking systems that provide real-time data give staff a way to track equipment continually. This is especially beneficial to facilities monitoring mobile devices like wheelchairs and vehicles. Healthcare workers can also log important business data into this system, making it easier to monitor performance and leverage data to their advantage.

Lower patient wait time

Speeding up professional processes can also have a knock-on effect on patient wait time. Shortened wait times hugely benefit patients by lowering instances of negative outcomes and reducing associated feelings like anxiety and frustration. Lower patient wait times can also directly benefit your bottom line, as you will be able to increase the number of patients being seen to in a single day.

Different Asset Tracking Technology for Healthcare

While there’s no one-size-fits-all way to track medical assets, these are the four main asset tracking technologies:

  • Barcode systems  Barcode tracking is a low-cost way to keep tabs on physical assets. It involves barcodes that store product data and are stuck onto assets; and readers, which decode the data and typically take the form of barcode scanners or mobile devices. Its cost-effective nature makes it ideal for healthcare retail stores tracking stock, but its lack of real-time insights may limit it form being used by larger healthcare organizations.
  • Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) RTLS is a type of tracking technology designed to help users digitally track objects in large buildings. It involves wireless tags, and it can also be integrated with smart devices (like smartphones and laptops) to provide real-time data. Unlike GPS tagging, this method helps users accurately locate equipment inside, making this a great option for large healthcare facilities like hospitals.
  • Radio-Frequency Identification Systems (RFID) RFID uses electromagnetic fields to help users locate objects or people. Working in a similar way to cell towers, RFID tags send out signals to a reader every few seconds. Like RTLS systems, real-time data is used to produce a rolling audit, making it a highly efficient way to track hospital assets.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking  GPS technology uses a network of satellites to help users track objects remotely. Unlike RTLS tracking, GPS technology is used to monitor assets in between locations, not in large buildings (like hospitals). For this reason, it’s common to use GPS solutions when tracking assets like wheelchairs and rapid-response medical transport.

Learn more about radio frequency monitoring in our guide to RFID tracking.

How to Choose the Right Asset Tracking Technology for Healthcare

Before selecting an asset tracking technology for your facility, there are some important considerations to make.

Asses the needs of your facility

No two healthcare organization’s needs are the same. When deciding on your asset tracking technology, the first things you should focus on are the assets you need to track, and the environment you’re working in.

If you’re tracking valuable items like defibrillators or EKG machines, technology that provides highly accurate data like RFID or RTLS will likely be the best option, while healthcare retailers like pharmacies will be better off with lower-cost barcode systems.

The location of your assets will be a huge determining factor as well. RTLS technology being designed specifically for tracking indoor assets, and GPS trackers excelling at tracking equipment and vehicles are on the go.

Consider your budget

As is the case with most new business technology, cost will also be a determining factor. While RTLS systems generate real-time data and boast impressive accuracy, they can cost up to 10 times the price of RFID tags and dwarf the costs of barcodes.

However, while every healthcare facility has an incentive to keep costs low, skimping out on asset tracking can ultimately end up costing organizations more in the long run. So, in addition to being mindful of your business’s short-term financial needs, you should also factor in future costs associated with lost, damaged, or stolen assets.

Consider staff training options

Switching to a new asset tracking system can be disorientating for even the most experienced staff. When choosing a system, we recommend prioritizing ones that offer staff training options.

Doing so will help flatten out potential roadblocks during its adoption while helping your facility get the most out of the system in the long term. Alternatively, if you’re switching to a similar system or your staff are already well-versed in the new asset tracking technology, systems with in-house training may be lower down on your priority list.

Data Security And Compliance Tips

Due to the sensitive nature of medical equipment, tracking assets isn’t as simple as Plug and Play. To ensure you comply with regularity standards and keep your patients safe, here are some of the compliance and data security tips to be mindful of:

  • Carry out regular compliance audits According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), medical facilities are required to audit their asset tracking process at a six-month interval for the first three years after tracking orders, and then annually every three years. This is especially important when it comes to handling and disposing of sensitive medical supplies. Doing so will keep accidents to a minimum, and will ensure your organization is operating legally.
  • Track important medical devices The FDA mandates certain medical devices that need to be managed by law. This includes assets like defibrillators, pacemakers, mechanical heart valves, and ventilators. Healthcare businesses need to make sure these assets are managed through their system or be ready to face legal consequences. Read the FDA’s full list here.
  • Keep patient data secure Businesses must also use the asset system’s security protocols to the fullest extent and also potentially use extra mechanisms, like one of the best password managers, to help protect sensitive patient data from cyberattacks.

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