Smart asset tracking is a buzzword that is becoming increasingly popular in the healthcare industry. From the outside, it seems like a complicated innovation that can take a lot of time and money to implement and adopt. However, it makes sense to study the topic more thoroughly before drawing a conclusion.
In our article, we explain how tracking hospital assets with RFID and the Internet of Things from the inside works and what benefits it can bring, in addition to optimized tracking.
A quick introduction to technologies
Two core technologies are behind smart asset tracking in hospitals: RFID and IoT. RFID is used directly for tracking, while IoT enables efficient data storage, processing, and analysis.
Radio Frequency Identification uses radio frequency electromagnetic fields to identify the location of hospital items bearing special labels with the help of readers located in the corridors, rooms, and facilities near the hospital.
An RFID tag is a chip with the information (unique identifier, electronic product code and more) and an antenna to send the information to a reader. There are active and passive tags. An active tag has an embedded power supply. A passive tag obtains the energy from the electromagnetic radiation of a reader. A reader is a device that receives radio waves from RFID tags located within its reading range. The reader transfers a command and issues energy to activate a tag, and the tag sends its information in response.
When it comes to tracking smart assets, the IoT part is responsible for storing, processing, and analyzing the data collected by RFID readers: information about hospital items, how they are used and moved.
How RFID and IoT enable smart asset tracking in hospitals
We begin with a brief dive into how RFID and the IoT help track assets in healthcare facilities.
Hospital items (hospital inventory and durable goods) are equipped with labels. The list of such items may include disposable items (gloves, plastic bottles, gauze), sheets, bottles, and boxes with medications, tools, and medical equipment (surgical tools, pumps, monitors), and so on. Labels can be attached to or embedded in assets (e.g., in surgical tools). It is also possible to attach labels to boxes that contain, for example, medicines and disposable items. Readers located in hospital rooms and hallways (e.g., on walls, next to doors) send information about the location of assets. Staff can track movable property with a mobile or web app with a hospital map. When a particular item is needed, a doctor or nurse makes a request. An IoT system finds the nearest available item (s) and informs a user of their location.
Benefits for health processes
The ability to automatically track hospital items and collect and analyze this data helps hospital staff and administration in many ways.
Automate the routine
Automation helps to overcome the drawbacks and limitations of manual asset tracking: low speed, human error, a lot of paperwork. Here are some examples of how to use tracking and asset management automation:
- Improved drug supply: When a hospital is almost without a certain drug, an IoT system can automatically order a new batch.
- Automated reports on hospital equipment use: Weekly, monthly, and on-demand reports on how different departments use hospital items to identify missing or underused assets.
Improve the visibility of the location and availability of medical assets
According to the Nursing Times poll, nurses spend at least an hour looking for necessary items during an average hospital shift. Undoubtedly, mismanagement of hospital inventory and distribution of durable assets refers to all health professionals working in a hospital and can significantly influence internal processes.
With RFID and IoT, it is possible to track and visualize asset locations and movements in real time by reducing computer search time. It is critical for assets that pass through different equipment and departments (e.g., thermometers, blood pressure monitors, and stethoscopes).
Hospital inventory records and durable assets are updated regularly and accurately, which contributes to the speed and quality of hospital inventory management.
Find bottlenecks in the hospital’s internal processes
Smart asset tracking can help reveal a stage in the process that is more burdensome than it can handle and, as a result, significantly slows down the entire workflow. A simple example: if lots of surgery tools are waiting in front of the autoclaves, an IoT system generates the corresponding warning. If this situation occurs systematically, it may indicate that sterilization is established in a very inefficient manner and a hospital must take action (e.g., the installation of additional autoclaves can help increase the rate of sterilization. sterilization of surgical tools).
A smart solution for tracking hospital assets with RFID and IoT helps improve the business of a healthcare provider.
Avoid loss and theft of personal property
With smart tracking, a healthcare organization can reduce reckless use of its property and better protect it from theft. When an item with an RFID tag leaves an designated area without authorization (a healthcare organization sets out the details of this procedure and the employees responsible), an IoT system generates an alert notification informing the security guard of the hospital about a possible theft.
Optimize investments in inventory and equipment
Automated reports on the use of hospital assets can help hospital inventory specialists reduce the number of identical assets that are not used simultaneously without negative consequences and therefore reduce the costs of renting, purchasing and maintaining unnecessary equipment. By avoiding unnecessary expenses, a hospital saves money, which can be invested in purchasing new advanced tools, for example, for robotic surgery.
Boost staff productivity and job satisfaction
When it is not necessary to manually manage monitoring-related issues, prepare numerous reports on the use of items and equipment, and devote precious time to finding the necessary assets sterilized and ready for use, hospital staff have the opportunity to focus directly on health services. Thus, doctors and nurses are not distracted from the work process and their work functions.
By continuously collecting and exploiting data on how hospital assets are used (e.g., applying advanced analysis and machine learning), it is possible to predict which items should be included in the next asset purchase. In addition, a healthcare organization can use this data to better plan the number of assets to buy for a new healthcare facility in the event of growth.
Challenges and concerns of adopting smart asset tracking
While RFID and IoT are quite promising for improving healthcare asset management, there are important points to consider if a healthcare facility plans to establish smooth and effective smart asset tracking.
RFID can influence medical processes
RFID can influence the performance of medical equipment (e.g., defibrillators, pacemakers, dialysis machines). Passive labels only reflect the energy of readers and the chance of them influencing medical processes is low. With active tags emitting radio waves themselves, the situation is more complicated. To effectively track the assets of the RFID hospital, it is necessary to place the RFID readers and medical equipment so that they do not influence each other (for example, to avoid the installation of an RFID reader nearby). of a radiology machine).
Another problem to keep in mind is that a label located in the wrong place can affect the ability of a tool. In this regard, for example, it is better to use built-in labels for surgery tools instead of those attached to the surface of the tools.
Daily hospital operations can affect RFID tags
Hospital assets undergo regular sterilization and some items (such as surgical tools (scissors, tweezers, scalpels, retractors), towels, sheets, and more) must be disinfected daily. RFID tags attached to hospital equipment must be sufficiently resistant to high temperatures in autoclaves to survive this process.
Overall costs can be unexpectedly high
To enable effective tracking of smart assets, a hospital must invest in tags, software, RFID infrastructure maintenance, and staff training, to name a few. While a single tag may not be very expensive (typically 5 cents to about $ 10), the overall price increases dramatically given the number of tags a installation normally needs. The hospital administration should carefully plan how it will resort to intelligent asset monitoring, as internal processes will need to be changed and aligned with its IT and business strategies. In some cases, the assistance of third-party consultants may be required.
Intelligent asset management has potential cybersecurity risks
Tracking sensitive health care data is a major concern for both health care providers and patients. Transmitted data must be stored in secure databases that are HIPAA compliant and protected from misuse. An additional difficulty is that information security in IoT is a relatively new area for security specialists, and this field still requires research. At first glance, it may seem like there is nothing special in the data about how hospital items are used and moved. However, this data will be incomplete without, for example, data on the doctor or nurse using the article and, in some cases, on the patient who will be operated on.
To sum it up
RFID and IoT help leave behind the error-prone manual management of hospital assets by making the process more stable and efficient. Automated asset tracking is relevant not only to medical equipment, but also to a wide variety of inventories used by each hospital: gloves, towels, blankets, and more.
The list of operational and business benefits is quite impressive:
- Monitoring of medical equipment distributed by different departments and even hospitals.
- Reduce hospital inventory volumes and improve asset availability.
- Identification of weaknesses in hospital processes.
- Reduce and prevent the loss and theft of assets.
- Improve investments in new assets.
It is also worth mentioning that smart asset tracking needs a corresponding infrastructure: RFID tracking equipment and a secure IoT system. The system provides the collection, storage, processing and analysis of data (including advanced analysis) and allows hospital staff and administration to carry out asset management with mobile and web applications. specials.
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