Hospitals, urgent care centers, blood banks, palliative care centers, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics, and other types of healthcare facilities are often struggling to set up efficient asset management and run into multiple issues related to medical inventory.
Clinicians need medical equipment and supplies to be readily accessible and well-maintained to offer their patients the highest level of care. In places where asset management is done manually, the time spent on locating the required items can stall necessary procedures, inflate the cost of care, and lower patient satisfaction.
Digital transformation of hospital inventory systems allows healthcare providers to streamline asset management operations with sophisticated solutions that tackle multiple pain points at once.
Challenges in medical inventory management
When accountability is not enforced and staff doesn’t keep the records up to date, medical consumables, laboratory supplies, and medications can expire or run out just when they’re needed. Discrepancies in inventory records also result in mistaken orders for new supplies.
While lost items are often the result of growing patient load and outdated inventory practices, medical equipment theft chiefly comes from employees or people posing as hospital staff. Studies show that misplaced and stolen assets can cost a typical 500-bed hospital millions of dollars in replacement expenses a year.
In a hospital setting, it is vital to comply with strict sanitary standards to reduce the chance of spreading hospital-acquired infections. A traditional inventory process makes it difficult to track the cleaning cycles of medical equipment and dispose of hazardous waste correctly.
Storage environment control
One of key responsibilities in asset management is to ensure that all items are stored in the optimal conditions in terms of light, humidity, temperature, and other environmental factors. However, with a manual approach to inventory and a diverse range of assets, this task becomes increasingly cumbersome, and costly errors can occur.
Digitizing medical inventory management
Hospitals can choose from a variety of specialized asset management solutions. Some of them improve on-hand inventory visibility and implement low-stock notifications, while more comprehensive systems make it possible to automate the majority of inventory-related operations.
Let’s have a look at the ways technology can help reduce the time and resources needed to maintain hospital assets in top-notch conditions.
Visual inspection and predictive maintenance
Malfunctions of medical equipment are not just costly, but dangerous. Even when the standard procedure dictates an obligatory inspection of every device and component by a specialist before use, this approach is time-consuming and not scalable.
Modern equipment maintenance solutions focus on predicting and preventing malfunctions. By leveraging computer vision software in combination with AI analysis, these systems speed up the quality control and maintenance of medical devices, tools, and medication packaging. These checks can include:
- Checking device dimensions
- Verifying the presence and quality of components (tubing, needles, cartridges, vials, etc.)
- Tracking unique device identifiers (UDIs)
- Detecting particles and other surface contamination
Any detected defects are catalogued and reported to hospital staff in real time, which ensures that only safe and fully functional assets are used to treat patients.
IoT-driven inventory management
IoT technology is being widely used to improve operational efficiency in warehouse management across various domains, including healthcare. Connected trackers help to accurately determine stock level, facilitate check-in and check-out for valuable assets — while cutting down the time that staff has to spend on locating items.
RFID technology in particular has become the driver of many hospital asset management solutions, as the trackers are small, durable, do not require charging, and can be easily located at a distance. RFID devices are presently being used to track anything from infusion pumps to scrubs as these items are checked out, used, and returned to storage.
Mobile-ready inventory solutions
Smartphones and tablets are already used in many hospitals to help doctors and nurses keep track of patient data and manage their workload. With QR, RFID, and barcode-based solutions replacing manual asset management, mobile devices acquire yet another function in the hospital ecosystem.
Specialized inventory apps allow hospital staff to scan labeled items with a mobile camera and immediately get access to the required information from the shared asset database. The same solution can be used by a doctor to order a batch of consumables by scanning the code on the item they are already using.
Asset lifecycle management
Solutions for lifecycle management of medical assets can combine several aforementioned technologies with powerful analytics. These all-encompassing systems enable users to ‘lead’ every asset from its procurement and eventual disposal.
Besides encouraging correct handling and preventing theft, lifecycle management helps to enforce regulatory compliance at every stage of the asset’s use, e.g. the Falsified Medicines Directive and FDA’s Unique Device Identifier Rule.
Hospitals and similar healthcare facilities need to pay close attention to how physical assets are managed, as any inefficiencies in this area can drain the budget and put their quality of service at risk. Manual asset tracking is not sustainable.
On the other hand, the market is not lacking innovative techs that enable healthcare providers to automate the majority of asset management tasks, including regulation compliance and defect monitoring.
The solution choice depends on the hospital’s needs and financial capabilities. However, in the long run, any type of digital transformation of asset management delivers a high ROI by positively affecting other departments through better coordination, cost reduction, and item quality.