How to Automate Asset Tracking, Management, and Inventory in Healthcare and Pharma

Asset tracking is particularly important in healthcare as well as in pharma. Sometimes minutes can make a world of a difference to patient outcomes, and the last thing you want your staff to be doing is desperately searching for the closest infusion pump or wheelchair while a patient is left waiting. In pharmaceutical labs there are often similar issues with locating equipment and wasting time looking for it. And in both cases human error can cause real problems. Many hospitals and larger lab facilities have literally thousands of assets to worry about. The problem has only grown worse, with the number of devices next to a typical bed growing from eight to 13 in the period between 1995 and 2010, and it has only accelerated since.

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A properly automated asset tracking and management system using Bluetooth Low Energy Tags and Beacons as well as Location Analytics Platform can help in a number of ways:

Track the Location of Staff

BLE-enabled badges can allow the system to track doctors, nurses and other staff members as they move through the facility. By tracking staff location, the system can answer their queries about the location of the nearest piece of equipment, or even the location of a patient. Some hospitals also use the system to track visitor badges so they can be sure visitors don’t enter clean rooms or other facilities where you don’t want outsiders present.

The system can also replace loud traditional paging systems that disturb patients and add to the negative aspects of the “hospital atmosphere.” It can tell staff that a surgeon is in the OR or prep and thus should not be disturbed. It can also be used to help staff choose efficient routes through larger facilities, saving time spent in transit that can then be spent on patient care.
Other staff tracking systems can also be used to monitor compliance with hand washing or clean room procedures, ensure that there are enough nurses on duty, and decrease potential incidents. Monitors attached to patients can also monitor vitals.

Help Staff Find What They Need

A nurse needs to find a wheelchair for patient discharge. A physician assistant needs to find a missing blood pressure cuff. A lab worker needs to track down a spectrometer. In the past, lost equipment could cause large amounts of lost time, worsen patient outcomes, and result in workers having to stay late to finish an experience. When each piece of equipment or box of supplies is tagged and tracked, staff can find it easily, even if it has been left outside in the parking lot or they are in an unfamiliar part of the facility.
The system will always send staff to the nearest piece of equipment, further saving time and freeing staff to do their actual jobs. Also, staff who know they can find what they need, when they need it, are less likely to take matters into their own hands and hoard equipment.

Track and Analyze Asset Utilization

AI-assisted asset tracking can give you a picture of how assets are being, or not being utilized at any given time. This can help improve efficiency in several ways:

  • It can allow for optimum placement of assets to reduce the amount of time spent fetching them. Over time, the system will build a picture which will tell you exactly where the best place for, for example, defibrillators is to improve patient outcomes.
  • It can allow for the removal or relocation of assets which are simply not being used.

By using the Simon AI, healthcare facilities can ensure that equipment and supplies are stored in a way that really is the most efficient, rather than simply appearing that way. Beacons and tags can be placed on individual items and on boxes of disposable items, such as syringes.

In pharmaceutical labs, the same system can be used to keep track of which lab is using which piece of portable equipment at any given time, allowing staff to know who has an asset and when it might be available for use. This also allows labs to determine if more equipment needs to be purchased or leased. As the entire system is automatic, there is never any need to ask where equipment is. 

Tracking systems can also help hospitals determine how many of an item to buy and leverage bulk item discounts that can offer savings. They can also help calculate depreciation.

Improve Inventory Control and Prevent Overstocking

Overstocking can be a particular problem in labs, and overstocking of perishable items can cost a lot. By monitoring inventory levels over time, you can ensure that stock levels are always close to where they need to be.

The system can also make sure that supplies and equipment are stored correctly. It can even track whether perishable supplies are in the right refrigerator or freezer and alert when something has been left out in a wrong location. It can be used to help design a storage system that is efficient, giving staff easy access to the most commonly needed items and ensuring that only equipment that is rarely used is stored in hard-to-reach corners. Staff can easily see, in real time, where inventory is and how much they have left.
This saves money by ensuring it isn’t spent on unnecessary inventory and also reduces waste.

Prevent Loss of Equipment

Expensive equipment has been known to walk out the door. Automated asset tracking systems prevent this by alerting if equipment is removed from the facility. Combined with tracking of employees, it may be possible to identify exactly who moved the equipment. Alerts can also be sounded if equipment is not returned to its proper place after use.

This not only reduces the risk of employee theft but can also help deal with carelessness, such as an employee walking out with an item still in the pocket of their lab coat. Otherwise they might get all the way home before they notice it, and then forget to return it. Alert systems can inform forgetful employees right away if they still have a stethoscope in their pocket. The alert can also ensure that patients return borrowed mobility aids. Theft can also occur at the hands of patients and visitors, so it’s wise to ensure that loss prevention methods are in place. Overall, asset tracking ensures that equipment stays in the facility where it belongs.

Reduce Medication Errors and Theft

One of the most common errors healthcare practitioners make is administering the wrong medication or the wrong dose. Medication errors can be fatal or cause other long-term side effects. Electronic medical records go a long way towards reducing medication errors. Asset management systems can help by attaching patient data to a tag on the patient themselves that nurses can then check before administering and using a tag or bar code on the medication itself. These can be cross referenced to alert staff if they are about to make a mistake. Tagging the bins in which medication is stored can also help. The system can provide an alert whenever a high risk medication (one likely to cause severe negative outcomes if incorrectly administered) is checked out and ensure that the staff member pulling the medication is reminded to be particularly careful with it.

This can also reduce the theft of expensive or easily-abused medications, especially by staff. Ensuring that medication containers are checked out and checked in can help track medication theft and can help identify individuals who may need help. Medication theft can also cost a healthcare facility a significant amount of money.

Many hospitals also tag beds, which can then alert if the patient in the bed is not the one the system says should be there, ensuring that patient turnover is properly documented and staff don’t think a discharged patient is still present, preventing errors that can endanger patients or cause wastage of medication (such as pulling a dose out of a fridge that is not actually needed).

Track Medical Waste Disposal

Hospitals and labs produce large amounts of potentially hazardous waste. A location-based system can track waste as it goes out the door and make sure that the right bags go to the right place. Hospitals have to worry about handling sharps, infectious materials, pharmaceuticals that can’t get into groundwater, etc. The system also stores a record of how waste was disposed of that can save a lot of time when it comes time to audit waste or otherwise ensure compliance with regulations about the disposal of waste.
It can also make sure that, say, a bag of radiological waste is not simply forgotten in a corner, and assess how systems for ensuring waste is disposed of correctly are actually working.

Asset management is vital to both save money and improve patient outcomes. The use of BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) tagging in conjunction with the Simon AI can help keep track of mobile assets in labs and hospitals, ensuring that assets are where they need to be, are not underutilized, and that processes can be monitored and improved. Bluetooth is ideal for this due to the low cost of the tags and the ability to place beacons to create exactly the right level of precision for asset and staff location. If you are a healthcare facility or lab manager who wants to improve asset tracking, schedule a demo today to see how Simon AI can help you.

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