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How cloud-based asset management became essential to efficient healthcare operations

By Steve Beard / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
June 8, 2017

When healthcare facility management and clinical engineering teams have to keep track of thousands of physical assets and medical devices, the seemingly simple expectation that patients will receive the best available medical care becomes an overwhelming logistical challenge. That’s why, one of the cornerstones of modern healthcare management is the enterprise asset management (EAM) solution that keeps track of all the moving pieces and ensures that mission-critical equipment and technology are functioning and available when they’re needed.

While EAM is an important function in any organization, in healthcare it gives front-line staff the tools to speed patients’ recovery and ensure quality care. At the extreme, it saves lives. EAM is about using technology to optimize asset performance and predict rehabilitation and replacement requirements. The end goal is to provide an optimum care environment by having the equipment well maintained, available, and ready to go when needed. EAM tells healthcare administrators what equipment is available, what work has been done on it in the past, and when it may need more maintenance or actually replacing. Either way, this information is going to have an impact on budget and future expenses – all in the context of providing optimal patient care.

An asset registry that works

At its simplest form, EAM gives any healthcare facility an asset registry with the bandwidth to inventory a multitude of assets. Some organizations are still doing this manually or with spreadsheets, and it’s an insurmountable task. An EAM solution brings together all the important attributes and vital statistics for your equipment under a single umbrella. Rather than having to track down purchase records or other legacy documents to find out when an item was acquired, what it originally cost, when it went into service, who produced it, or what part number or manufacturer’s ID to quote to get it serviced, all of that information—and much more—is at a manager’s fingertips. But the registry doesn’t just sit still. It can generate work orders, put up preventive maintenance schedules, and track the item’s history for labor, materials, warranties, and much more. This allows you to know what you’ve spent on that particular piece of equipment over time.

And then there’s the sensitive matter of locating equipment when it’s needed. In some institutions, staff have been known to hoard or hide essential gear to make sure they can find it when they need it. More and more asset managers are responding by bar-coding each item and integrating EAM with radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, so that every device can be tracked—a great example of using the Internet of Things to take better care of people.

 

The systems behind the systems

 

Behind the specialized medical devices that embody a healthcare facility’s core purpose, an EAM solution also has to monitor the condition of more routine physical assets—the electrical and mechanical, plumbing and HVAC systems, even the parking lots and landscaped grounds – that patients and staff rarely think about until they fail. Increasingly, those systems are run by programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that capture critical data on their operating condition. Run-time data like speed, velocity, heat, or a variety of other sensor-related data keep the pulse of equipment and system conditions. In an EAM system, those metrics serve as benchmarks to automatically generate workflow notifications and alerts when equipment is either under or over the desired thresholds. By capturing all of this Big Data and passing it to an EAM system, healthcare facilities are streamlining preventive maintenance and making it more automated or routinized.

An external regulatory body in the background for any U.S. healthcare facility is the Joint Commission, the accreditation and certification body that performs quality assurance for nearly 21,000 healthcare organizations and programs across the country. To qualify for Medicaid funding, a hospital has to be audit-ready at any time. Organizations have to comply with rather strict, regimented requirements for cleanliness, safety, air and water quality, and calibration of biomedical equipment to keep it operational according to its design specifications. So while quality patient care is always the main focus, Joint Commission oversight is necessarily a top-of-mind concern for every healthcare administrator. An EAM solution that is itself aligned with Joint Commission requirements becomes a one-stop source for audit reporting, as well as an early warning system for the preventive maintenance that keeps a facility and biomedical department compliant.

An EAM system for every need

 

Healthcare facilities vary widely in their size and purpose. Given this, there’s a corresponding range of EAM solutions to choose from. Every organization, regardless of its size, should be concerned about its assets. A small healthcare center may not need or be able to afford a high-end system. They may have to sacrifice some of the automation and predictive capabilities that a more sophisticated solution provides. But they still need to track their assets, monitor asset conditions, and prioritize reinvestment decisions around asset repair and replacement requirements. At the other end of the scale, the nation’s largest multi-organization healthcare systems rely on EAM to make sure managers at every level have the operational data they need, when and where they need it, in a format that is easy to read and understand. For organizations with multiple campuses or geographic locations across different states, each facility can be set as a unique entity within the same instance of the software. So at a high level, you can look across the entire enterprise to get a sense of asset performance and cost. Then, from an operational perspective, each campus can run as a separate organization.

 

Expect the best

 

With the rise of Software as a Service (SaaS), organizations should expect their EAM solutions to be deployed in the cloud, with appropriate security, permission lists, and partitions, to ensure that each unit only has access to its own unique data set. Another advantage in modern EAM solutions is the ability to integrate with other enterprise software, like financial management. When a new part or asset has to be acquired, managers can initiate the requisition in the EAM. It then flows through to the financial system to procure the part through accounts payable, ordering, and receiving. After it’s received, all of that inventory data flows back to the EAM, so that all information is available in a single instance. This tight integration helps to avoid duplicate data entry and provides better visibility from a financial perspective.

 

It may sound too good to be true, but healthcare administrators shouldn’t just expect a superior level of functionality. They should demand it. This functionality is going to save them money and time. Dealing with one vendor in an integrated environment, helps with the elimination of redundancy and visibility of information that environment affords them. For cash-strapped healthcare operations, this is not a luxury. It’s really a requirement for a more efficient operation and a higher level of patient care and satisfaction.

 

Steve Beard is the Director of Innovation for Infor Public Sector.

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