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Hospital Shrinkage: RTLS Gives Equipment Nowhere to Hide | Healthcare Asset Tracking & Management

Submitted byRobert Peed on

​In retail and manufacturing supply chains, the term “shrinkage” typically refers to items that are stolen or diverted to black markets. The healthcare sector has to deal with shrinkage, too, but it’s not always the result of criminal activity. Theft is, of course, an issue, especially with certain asset classes, such as wheelchairs and other desirable items, but a lot of hospital shrinkage is due to simple oversight. Hospitals are busy places and, in the rush to get things done, a piece of equipment can be overlooked, misplaced, or mistaken for something else – and ultimately lost. 

For example, let’s say you’re a patient and you’ve just been released to go home. The first thing you do is remove the electrodes connected to the telemetry monitor recording your heart rate, and put the machine on the bed. Then you take off your gown and put that on the bed, too, before getting dressed. When it comes time to clean the room, the telemetry monitor is hidden underneath the gown and accidentally gets gathered up with the rest of the linens. Now, instead of going to its proper place in the dirty room, to be processed before returning to inventory, the telemetry monitor is on its way to the laundry. 

The same kind of thing can happen with other kinds of equipment, especially rentals. When a room is being readied for the next patient, an external defibrillator or a wound VAC might be bagged up and left in the room, with the expectation that clinical engineering will retrieve the bag and return the item to the rental agency. But when environmental services arrives, they might mistake the bag for garbage and take it to the trash instead. If the mistake isn’t caught in time, the equipment is gone for good. 

Unintentional But Costly

Mishaps like these, even if they happen only occasionally, can have a significant impact on equipment budgets. A single telemetry monitor can cost several thousand dollars, and more sophisticated equipment, like wound VACs, can run into the tens of thousands. 

A Real-Time Location System (RTLS) based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons can help hospitals avoid unintentional losses. The RTLS system senses when equipment ends up somewhere it’s not supposed to be, so misplaced items can be retrieved before anything else happens. 

Just about any piece of equipment can be tagged with an asset tag for location. The item is entered into the RTLS software along with data about its normal locations. If the RTLS system then detects the item in an odd location, like the laundry room or the basement, an alert is triggered. The system can highlight the misplaced item in the RTLS dashboard, so whoever’s monitoring the dashboard can note the issue and resolve it, or the system can send a notification directly to security or clinical engineering, naming the item to be retrieved and its location.  

The RTLS approach makes it easy to know where everything is, so there are fewer unintentional losses. Equipment essentially has nowhere to hide, so the occasional oversight doesn’t become costly shrinkage.


Tags: hospital asset tracking​, healthcare asset tracking​, patient tracking software

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