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Follow that Pump

February 25, 2009
by Mark Hagland
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As medical devices grow more expensive, tracking them becomes absolutely imperative

Hospitals have so many items to track, the task can be overwhelming. Until recently, this meant that countless pieces of medical equipment and other items were lost or stolen, without anyone being the wiser. But CIOs are making progress in systematically tracking physical assets thanks to the use of information systems - and they're realizing real ROI.

Steven Roth

Steven Roth

Examples of excellent results abound, including:

  • At the 316-bed Wayne Memorial Hospital in Goldsboro, N.C., Tom Bradshaw, vice president, operations, who oversees IT and facilities, says his organization saved $276,000 from not having to buy unnecessary smart infusion pumps. That intelligence was based on data provided by the organization's asset tracking vendor (Morrisville, N.C.-based RadarFind). He notes that the hospital is saving an additional $27,000 each year in maintenance or service cost avoidance on IV pumps.

  • At two-hospital, 651-bed Pinnacle Health system in Harrisburg, Pa., vice president and CIO Steven Roth and director of biomedical engineering George Morley have improved the tracking of a broad array of assets, from medical equipment to wheelchairs. The duo accomplished this by rolling out an RFID-based asset tracking system three years ago (Andover, Mass.-based Radianse).

“The goal is reduction in loss and access to equipment and materials,” Roth says. “While I believe there's hard-dollar ROI, we didn't sell it internally based on a hard-and-fast, ‘If we spend X, we'll be able to save Y’ argument. It was really around knowing where the equipment was, and making sure the departments had what they needed when they needed it.”

These kinds of advances speak to a strong imperative taking shape across the U.S. healthcare system, says Fran Turisco, principal researcher in the Lexington, Mass.-based Emerging Practices Group of the Falls Church, Va.-based CSC. According to Turisco, there are two key considerations in terms of asset tracking for physical items. “One is, what are the medical devices or pieces of equipment that they see nurses spending a long time looking for? If you're wasting valuable people-time on that, there's a clear ROI opportunity there,” she says. “The other has to do with the purely financial aspects of losing the assets themselves. If you've got IV pumps walking out the door, obviously, you have to consider that aspect.”

With regard to biomedical equipment, it's crucial to work in concert with the biomedical engineering professionals within an organization, Turisco adds. “They're the ones saying, ‘I can never find the pumps,’ or, ‘I'm replacing 50 percent of our EKG cables every year,’” she notes. “They're losing equipment and wasting time.”

All of these opportunities provide for what would be easy wins for CIOs, except for the fact installing the infrastructure can be expensive, she says. Turisco and her colleagues in Emerging Practices at CSC prepared a report last year for the San Francisco-based California Health Care Foundation on this topic. Some of the hospitals they spoke with were installing separate networks for RFID, while others were using existing LANs. “The initial cost with putting in the readers and the infrastructure is not cheap,” she says. “So a lot of hospitals will do it in a confined area, like the ED or the OR.”

Inevitably, CIOs will expand their sights with regard to what types of items to track. Recent breaches of patient data security across the country are bringing such dangers to the awareness of executive management and boards in hospital organizations. And wake-up calls of all sorts are sounding across healthcare, say experts and those implementing solutions.

For Wayne Memorial's Bradshaw, a personal healthcare experience opened his eyes to the need for better tracking of assets, especially those used in clinical care. His revelation came during his son's stay at Wayne Memorial, who was 13 at the time. “His IV pump had a sticker on it; and we have to check those every six months, and I noticed that the sticker had expired. So I went to our clinical engineering department and said, ‘Why didn't you check this?’ And they said, ‘We were looking for it.’”