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An End to the Hunt-and-Gather Approach for Clinical Engineering

Submitted byRobert Peed on

Several years ago, when I was an ER nurse, the clinical engineering department worked hard to make sure we always had the right equipment on hand. But they didn’t always have an easy time of it, since some of the more expensive items, like IV pumps, always seemed to be in short supply. Some medical teams even resorted to hoarding, which forced engineers to search storage closets and other hiding places, to be sure everything was accounted for. It wasn’t always clear what, exactly, we had on hand, and it was hard to understand how often a particular item was put in use. Nobody really knew, for sure, if we had enough equipment or needed to buy more. 

In today’s healthcare organizations, though, with the arrival of Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons, clinical engineering teams have a much easier time of it. Each piece of equipment has an asset tag that reports its location to the location appliance, so it’s easy to view the asset’s location and status, anywhere in the facility and at any time, using the RTLS software. 

Built-in Par Levels

Tracking for par levels is an inherent part of the Awarepoint RTLS software. You can define an area, such as the equipment clean room, for example, and specify an acceptable range for the par level – maybe a minimum of ten and a maximum of 15 IV pumps. Each time a pump moves out of the clean room and is put to use in a patient room, the RTLS software tracks the event. When the number of pumps in the clean room drops below ten, the system sends a notification to a predefined location, such as the inventory-management dashboard or a clinical engineer’s cell phone, saying it’s time to restock. 

Par levels can also be used to manage equipment that needs tending. An area can be defined as “dirty” if it has a certain number of used pieces of equipment. When the maximum number is reached, clinical engineering receives a notification, and can go directly to the area and retrieve whatever needs cleaning and maintenance. 

Accurate Utilization Rates

Over time, the RTLS setup lets hospitals track utilization, so they can manage their purchasing budgets more efficiently. The process might start, for example, with asking medical staff how many pumps they need, and stocking that amount. Over the following weeks and months, the RTLS system tracks utilization data and generates reports that show what’s been used and how often. Since fewer items go astray, and there’s less time spent searching for equipment, the medical staff may find they’re actually doing more with what they already have, and might even be able to get by with less. 

Efficiency and Cost Savings

With the RTLS software configured for par-level tracking, there’s no more need for clinical engineers to roam the halls at random, searching for equipment. The clean room is always adequately stocked, and used equipment doesn’t accumulate in patient rooms. What’s more, the higher utilization rates that result from the RTLS system’s par-level tracking can offset capital expenditures, for significant savings in the long run. RTLS for par levels makes hunting and gathering a thing of the past, increases cost efficiency, and helps ER teams focus on providing the best possible care.