The benefits of medical equipment asset tracking

Author: Lauren Evoy Davis

As healthcare enters the new digital age, investment in health technology is seeing an increase in the use of IoT technologyartificial intelligence, telehealth and more. According to Market Research Future, total digital healthcare spending will increase 23.7% annually to reach $1.3 trillion by 2030.

With increased spending comes more equipment, devices and assets for staff to manage and keep track of. In an era of healthcare labor shortages and resource pressures, medical equipment asset tracking could take up valuable time and resources. If not done properly, healthcare organizations could lose access to valuable equipment critical to patient care and safety. When asked to name an operational hurdle that needed to be overcome during the pandemic, almost half (49%) of hospital and health system leaders nominated monitoring and tracking patients and physical assets.

This is where technology can help. Hospital asset tracking solutions can provide an efficient and cost-effective way for organizations to manage their equipment.

How does medical equipment asset tracking work?

A medical equipment tracking system uses IoT devices with either radio-frequency identification (RFID) or real-time location services (RTLS) technology to track and manage assets.

What is RFID tracking?

RFID8 technology works by placing a tag or label on an asset and a reader. Signals bounce between the devices to determine the location of objects or individuals. An RFID chip sends radio signals to a reader every few seconds and triangulation software is often used to give an approximate location of the asset. RFID signals require a direct line of sight.

What is RTLS tracking?

RTLS uses tags equipped with sensor technology and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or ultrasound to tag and track hospital assets. This means it does not require line of sight and can be used to track large numbers of assets in multiple locations.

What type of hospital assets can be tracked?

Any asset can be tagged for medical equipment asset tracking, including:

  • Medical equipment—ultrasound units, respiratory machines
  • Medical supplies—needles, personal protective equipment
  • Equipment used for transport—mobile beds, wheelchairs
  • Non-medical equipment—generators, air-conditioning
  • Communications equipment—electronic tablets, device readers and scanners

RFID hospital asset tracking technology can be used for patient safety, locate equipment, monitor temperature and employee tracking. For example, RFID bands worn on wrists can store important information such as the patient's name, allergies and medical history. 

Asset tracking technology can enhance medication management and help reduce medication errors. Some pharmaceutical manufacturers provide RFID-enabled products with important medication-related data, such as embedding the expiration date in the label. This helps to reduce the risk of a transcription error and eliminates the need for time-consuming manual data entry for each dose.

What are the benefits of a medical equipment tracking system?

A hospital asset tracking system can help to increase the efficiency of hospital operations, reduce costs and improve patient care. Healthcare organizations are increasingly seeing the value in asset tracking. In fact, Data Bridge Market Research predicts the market will grow 46.9% annually to reach $370.81 billion by 2029.

More efficient operations

By being able to easily and quickly locate hospital equipment, employees can spend more time with patients rather than searching rooms and halls. Research sponsored by Midmark found that nurses and other healthcare professionals can spend over 200 hours a year looking for hidden, missing or lost assets.

Locations without medical equipment asset tracking could even experience equipment hoarding by staff wanting to make sure they can find the equipment when they need it at a later time, preventing colleagues from using it in the meantime.

One hospital in Texas used RTLS, integrated with a patient-flow-technology platform, to improve its patient discharge process. The technology was able to notify staff of open beds approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes sooner than manual entry into the electronic health record. With beds available sooner, admission rates and revenue can increase, and more patients can receive medical treatment earlier.

Reduced costs and increased revenue

Having the ability to track each and every asset in one or many facilities can help to reduce costs related to replacing lost or missing inventory. Data sourced from asset tracking can also help to inform decisions about whether new equipment is needed or whether existing equipment can be used more efficiently.

Stolen hospital equipment continues to be a challenge for healthcare operators.  Asset tracking and geofencing technologies can help.  For instance, an asset tracking system can serve as a deterrent to theft as each piece of equipment or even medicine is tagged.  These systems can send out an alert when a tag has been moved or tampered with, which may indicate potential theft. Geofencing, a virtual fence or perimeter set around a physical location created using mapping software, can detect movement inside the virtual boundary.

Geofences can be used to send alerts via text message in near real time if the tagged item moves outside the boundary, or if the GPS tracker is removed or tampered with. 

Additionally, hospital asset tracking software can monitor the performance of equipment by tracking usage and efficiency. When routine maintenance or repairs are needed, the software can alert staff. This reduces equipment breakdowns and can extend the life cycle of the asset.

The efficiency benefits from asset tracking can also help to reduce costs and increase revenue. The 150-bed Texas hospital mentioned previously gained $351,000 in extra revenue in one year by improving its patient discharge process.

Improved patient care

Medical equipment asset tracking systems can improve the patient experience by reducing the unavailability of medical equipment and staff. Healthcare staff will be able to spend more time with patients and medical equipment, and other important assets will be available when a patient needs them. One Los Angeles hospital improved operating room turnaround time by 27 to 24 minutes after deploying RFID tags and a cloud-based software solution.

Improving hospital asset tracking with 5G

A key component of a medical equipment tracking system is having the right network infrastructure to support it. Many legacy networks are unable to support the growing use of mobile and connected devices in modern healthcare.  Combining 5G with mobile edge computing (MEC) can allow for large numbers of assets to be securely connected and dynamically managed in an adaptive and reliable network.  One of the benefits is that data from these assets can be processed and stored at the network’s edge, significantly reducing latency.  This can allow for simultaneous and near real-time updates to these assets. 

5G offers the high speeds, massive bandwidth and low latency potentially necessary for healthcare organizations to implement wide-scale medical equipment asset tracking. Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband will eventually handle 10 to 100 times more connected devices per square kilometer than 4G. This can allow for the monitoring and upgrading of equipment to be done at the same time, reducing the impact on your IT team and other staff.

Learn more about how Verizon can help your organization accelerate the benefits of the digital evolution of health.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.