Asset Tracking in Healthcare

6 March 2018

For each hospital bed in the U.S., there is approximately $4,000 worth of equipment lost or stolen each year. Asset tracking is changing that.
The sensitive nature of healthcare extends to its equipment. Hospitals don’t just worry about keeping their patients healthy. They have to keep on top of equipment costs and management which are ongoing processes. Keeping these costs down is not simply a one-time budgeting issue but a yearly—or monthly—discussion.
This is perhaps because it’s never quite clear where the most loss will come from. Will it be in wasted hours spent searching for tools? Is it endless shrinkage or overpurchasing? For a hospital like the Florida Hospital Orlando that has nearly 2,000 hospital beds, there’s a lot of equipment to care for. And with unpredictable twists happening (such as the $1.2 million of medical equipment stolen by three men from Toronto Western Hospital) operators are becoming much wiser to wasted resources.

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Common problems in today’s hospital

Whether it’s in North America, Africa, Asia, or anywhere in between, hospital physicians and staff are often faced with the same problems and they often ask the same questions on a regular basis. Every time there is a patient going into cardiac arrest, an AED is needed—ASAP. Every time a nurse needs to grab a small piece of equipment that has been misplaced, they have to wander the halls or consult spreadsheets. There are huge problems with these solutions.
Manually recording where a staff member has moved an asset is one affordable way to keep track of tools. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for staff to simply forget to update these files or for the asset to simply be moved again without any further note. The result isn’t just a confusing spreadsheet but tools going missing when they are needed most.


Assets go missing Asset operability is unclear Staff time is wasted Patients can be left waiting at critical moments Staff stockpiles equipment for later use

Why real-time asset tracking in hospitals makes a difference

Why do operators care about asset location? Here’s a quick refresher.
The real affect of assets missing is the bottom line of hospitals. There’s no question it also makes the lives of patients and staff more difficult, but it definitively affects the hospital in the long-term. Thousands or millions of dollars being wasted each on year on lost or misplaced assets is a fundamental operational issue.
Asset misplacement leads to:

  • Inventory shrinkage
  • Over-purchasing and staff hoarding tools for later use
  • Difficulty preventing theft
  • Par level management complications
  • Disorganized staff
  • Increased patient wait times

Specifically when it comes to prescription drugs or highly expensive equipment, the ability to track and prove presence in real-time means protecting the institution's bottom dollar and keeping everyone safe.

Traditional methods vs. real-time data

RFID first made its way into healthcare over a decade ago, offering all new capabilities for forward-looking healthcare providers. But uptake has been slow. There has been huge excitement as well as clear results that real-time asset tracking in the healthcare sector provides returns both for the operators and patients. Rather than requiring staff to manually record asset location information—or worse, not record anything at all—technology could actively track assets around the hospital. Anyone with authorization could find the location of any tagged tool in an instant.
However, many operators been surprised by the complexity of the technology. The specialized scanners and tags come with a huge price tag and require the installation of antennas all over the space.
The result was a solution made only for a select number of hospitals and providers. As executive vice president of HIMSS Analytics, John Hoyt, said:

"If you're going to spend that kind of money for that kind of infrastructure, all those antennas all over the hospital, you're spending a lot of money for infrastructure. Then use it, for gosh sakes, don't just put it on $5,000 IV pumps. Put it on all kinds of stuff."

There has been no possible to track assets in a hospital in real-time without completely committing mentally and financially to a huge project.

The twist: Bluetooth in asset tracking removes the huge costs

Of course, that asset tracking solution known for being wildly expensive is still evolving. Specifically in terms of the technology used. One alternative to Active RFID is Bluetooth. In the recent years, Bluetooth tags have become popular in fields that were once dominated by Active RFID tags. They provide roughly the same results—and operate in almost the same manner—but at longer read range and more reasonably priced hardware.
For example, Active RFID readers commonly cost between $1,000 and $5,000. However, a corresponding Bluetooth gateway can cost less than $100.
This Bluetooth tag is capable of doing everything listed above including giving users real-time information on an asset’s location. It’s only up to the solution provider to pair the hardware itself with an app or similar solution, and this is already happening. Most importantly, these solutions will allow hospitals to finally get the real-time data they need and track assets all over the hospital. They can even use such solutions to track patients or staff and create an even safer, more efficient environment.

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Hannah Augur

Content writer / tech blogger / geek based in Berlin. Hannah reports on all things tech and has a medium-sized tolerance for buzzwords.

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