Ground-breaking collaboration demonstrates the value of RFID asset tracking and digital workflow in infection control, patient management and cost-reduction
Asset tracking is incredibly valuable for hospitals. It enables staff to locate vital, often expensive, items of equipment quickly and easily, leaving more time for busy staff to focus on patient care while reducing costs associated with lost equipment. However, even greater benefits became apparent during 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted its life-saving value by improving patient management, reducing the risk of contamination and cutting the spread of infection.
For the past three years, Multitone Electronics and Healthcare Analytics have been working on an innovative asset tracking project in partnership with a multidisciplinary team at a hospital in Northern Ireland.
This article explores the results of the initial pilot, and outlines how the system can introduce further radical improvements in a variety of hospital and community settings.
Working with the hospital to establish the trial
Multitone has a 45-years association with the hospital and its parent healthcare Trust in Northern Ireland. Throughout this time, Multitone has provided the Trust with multiple critical communications systems. The Trust approached Multitone in 2017 to explore using Multitone’s critical communications platform to track its assets: initially to support routine decontamination of the circa 40,000 items used by the hospital’s busy pharmaceutical department.
The Trust appointed a prominent professor with many years of experience to head up the asset tracking pilot. Having had a successful relationship with Multitone for many years, he was comfortable with entrusting them with this project. The pilot drew upon Multitone and Healthcare Analytics’ joint technology and expertise, aided by close collaboration with hospital professionals, healthcare specialists and academics.
The first phase of the project took about a year and involved bringing multi-disciplinary teams onboard, including infection control, nursing and senior management, working in conjunction with the hospital’s communications and IT professionals.
The project started with mapping out how the decontamination process worked, and then the technology was developed with the objective of tracking and managing this whole process. The ultimate objective was twofold: to deliver significant improvements by reducing costs through the efficient and effective management of assets, and to free up valuable time for team members.
The need for an asset tracking system within the hospital was clear:
- Without an effective system in place, lost or misplaced assets were costing time and money: Staff sometimes struggled to find devices such as bariatric beds or syringe pumps due to hoarding or misplacement; wasting time as porters and nurses tried to locate the equipment they needed manually. Time is money, and this results in increased costs, as well as leaving less time for patient care. Worse still, if a rented item goes missing, this means the hospital is paying for something that isn’t being used. A busy hospital can hold around 100,000 separate items, so the potential financial and management implications are extremely serious.
- There was no clear system for locating assets and maintenance: Staff struggled to understand where assets were purchased, how well they had been maintained, their warranty status and so on. From a procurement point of view, being able to track and manage assets easily means eliminating unnecessary equipment purchases or rentals, and helps reduce maintenance costs by establishing a clear maintenance record and schedule.
- The hospital wanted to improve infection control procedures: Bed management was another early priority during the trial. Beds play an integral role in the decontamination process. Without accurate data and information on their location and use, it was impossible to manage infection control properly. For example, when a patient carries an infectious illness, there will be around 13 different devices associated with their bed which all require decontamination. Furthermore, the patient may have to be transported, for a scan, for example, whilst they pose an infection risk. By tracking the patient, staff are able to ensure they apply decontamination protocols to everything the patient has been in contact with.
- The hospital strove to improve patient care: Having the right equipment for a patient at the right time avoids unnecessary discomfort and increases For example, should a patient require a bariatric bed, but is not placed in one because staff struggle to find one that is available, the patient is likely to get bed sores or associated problems. This results in unnecessary pain and a longer hospital stay.
How does the asset tracking platform work?
The asset tracking solution developed for, and trialled by, the Northern Irish hospital in collaboration with Multitone and Healthcare Analytics involves attaching a passive RFID tag to each piece of equipment. This includes a barcode and a small chip programmed with a unique asset identification number. Tracking stations, located at key choke points, identify and track each item of equipment as it moves around the hospital. The data from the tags is automatically fed into the system, where it can be accessed via the asset management dashboard and smartphone app. The Multitone asset tracking platform provided to the Trust uses RFID inside hospital buildings and a variation of RFID and Bluetooth outside.
The solution is fully encrypted for safety and security, with GS1 standard barcodes. When an item needs to be cleaned or repaired, a task can be assigned quickly to the right team to get the equipment back into service as soon as possible. In some hospitals, utilising a rapid response team has proved invaluable in turning around beds more quickly, increasing availability.
The solution can track anything large enough to accommodate an RFID tag: hoists, wheelchairs, ECG monitors, and instruments used in theatre, podiatry and dental procedures being only a few examples. There is enormous potential for using the system in combination with a patient’s medical notes, enabling clinicians to have a complete inventory of how, when and where specific items have been used.
The results of the 12-month trial
The pilot has been an undoubted success. The team recently presented the results to the Trust management board, and as a consequence, the asset tracking solution is to be rolled out throughout the hospital, with a full-time systems manager appointed.
Asset tracking has an important role to play outside the hospital too. The Trust provides a range of community services, including 14 community stores where the solution can also be used. When patients move out of hospital back to their homes or other accommodation, they often need to take equipment, which needs tracking, cleaning and maintenance. The Trust’s Lead Occupational Therapist has taken an active interest in the early results from the hospital trial and has agreed to a store pilot. This trial is now almost finished and the initial results are encouraging.
Moving forward, a key objective is to use the asset tracking system for other services; particularly to focus on needs of vulnerable patients, such as those suffering with mild dementia or mental health issues. Once GDPR issues are overcome, the system has the potential to keep vulnerable patients safe; for example, if an individual goes missing from a hospital or community setting the asset tracking software can help to locate their whereabouts. GPs have been similarly supportive and kept informed as the trial has progressed.
The Multitone asset tracking and workflow solution
As the trial has proven, Multitone’s asset tracking platform brings together a number of services that can operate independently or together, optimising the use and deployment of a range of physical healthcare resources. The potential benefit of using it to protect vulnerable patients is also evident. Some of the other benefits of the Multitone platform include:
- Flexibility: The system can easily be tailored to meet a specific need. In this instance, Multitone’s technical team worked with Healthcare Analytics on modifying the software to work with the Trust’s various processes relating to medicines, staff deployment and bed management.
- Ease of use: The platform includes a flexible mobile workflow tasking app – designed to be intuitive and used daily by doctors, nurses, administration and management staff.
- Security and versatility: The solution works with all of the main operating systems and phones including both iOS Apple and Android versions. It is extremely secure too, designed to the highest levels of encryption.
Additionally, the current pandemic crisis has shown the importance of hygiene and controlling infection like never before. The asset tracking and workflow platform helps ensure all equipment is decontaminated as required, and prevents equipment from being moved in or out of infection control wards without oversight. This technology therefore will help reduce the spread of infection throughout a hospital or healthcare environment.
After 12 months operating the trial, the project has demonstrably met its key objectives: reducing costs, improving patient care, simplifying asset-related workflow and providing real-time asset location. The system facilitates accurate monitoring of pharmaceuticals and other healthcare inventory items and offers critical information for patient management, using data from smart medical devices.
The Multitone asset tracking system has established three principal benefits:
- Location management: it can track any item of equipment large enough to accommodate a tag, or a patient.
- Reductions in cost and wasted time: the system allows assets to be managed safely and efficiently.
- Reduced risk of infections and improved patient care: the solution assists clinicians and management in identifying how, when, where and to whom medical equipment, beds and other equipment have been allocated.
To find out more regarding Multitone’s solutions, contact us here.