The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on all industries – and none more than healthcare. Demand outpaced supply for most medical and personal protective equipment (PPE). Facilities were operating at maximum capacity. Facility managers were unsure of when materials were going to arrive. This forced many organizations to rapidly implement digital solutions over the last three years. Through these innovations, healthcare facilities have managed to implement digital wayfinding, touchless healthcare and telemedicine. In addition, real-time locating systems (RTLS) are now being implemented to increase efficiency, safety, profitability and provide better experiences for patients and staff.
“As healthcare facilities now witness increasing staffing shortages and supply challenges across the industry, healthcare leaders must consider the additional investments necessary to optimize the existing workforce through technology enablement within their facility and enhance the patient experience,” says Scott Hondros, vice president of professional services with CenTrak.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic first began in 2020, supply chains have been strained, particularly those serving healthcare. There were limited tracking –and-tracing options for PPE items and other medical equipment. This led to massive shortages throughout healthcare systems, with organizations forced to barter with one another so to get the materials they needed.
“Healthcare’s supply chain has always been fragile due to limited investment in operation technologies, clinician-directed sourcing, narrow visibility from manufacturer to hospital receiving dock, and somewhat unpredictable supply usage patterns,” says Kristen Miles, senior director of healthcare supply chain product strategy with Oracle. “These challenges have resulted in a fragility not seen in other industries. So when a major pandemic hit in 2020, healthcare organizations were faced with an unprecedented supply shift with only a handful of clinically approved alternatives available through a small number of trusted sources. This caused healthcare organizations and suppliers to have to think in new ways to meet the demand, as well as to reinvent how they managed their supplies and suppliers to keep patients cared for – and to keep the staff delivering that care safe.”
Throughout the early days of lockdown, hospitals rapidly added RTLS so that they were able to track where their products were in real time. Because of this, employees were able to reallocate their services back to patient care, reduce asset purchase requests and increase equipment supply data accuracy. With this technology, facilities managers also were able to enhance solutions to include automated PAR-level management in order to better ensure equipment needs and to make more informed decisions regarding equipment usage and orders.
“Supply chain software is a key input to overall healthcare metrics and will need to be easily merged with data from other healthcare systems to drive analytics that can inform and direct the business of healthcare,” Miles says. “These systems must provide seamless integration to capture costs, identify recalled goods, enable logistics and maintenance of smart devices for home health, and support continuous improvement of patient care.”
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities thrive by being efficient. With the ongoing labor shortage, many organizations have had to turn to technology to support their operations By automating PAR levels and gaining visibility into mobile medical equipment, distribution teams were able to ensure staff has adequate supplies in the correct departments. This also provides increased safety and time management value by removing manual documentation that can take professionals away from patient care.
“A facilities manager’s world revolves around one word: efficiency,” Hondros says. “For example, during COVID-19 the demand for hospital beds peaked, causing many hospitals to rent beds to fill the need. If there are excess beds in one area of the hospital, the facilities manager needs to know which department they belong to, if they have been sterilized, and where else the beds may be needed. Attaching RTLS-enabled asset tags to hospital beds allows the manager to immediately view this information and conduct an analysis to reallocate the beds where needed most.”
Facility managers are at a crossroads when it comes to how hospitals and healthcare facilities are operating. In order to remedy this, they will have to determine the major pain points that are currently impacting operations and implement a solution or use case that solves the challenge. By building out an RTLS infrastructure, facilities can implement a cost-effective solution with room to grow.
“As budgets are more scrutinized than ever before, facility leadership can implement RTLS solutions that meet the organization's budgets and needs with solid ROI being achieved, documented, and communicated back to institution leadership,” Hondros says. “Looking forward, as smartphones are leveraged for patient badges and modern infrastructure can support room level granularity at lower price points, opportunities will open to facilities that may have previously been hesitant to invest in RTLS. Among the younger generation of facility leaders, nurses and doctors, there has already been a tremendous shift and adoption of integrating technology like RTLS within EMR, BMS and other internal applications. RTLS are becoming more widely utilized, and that will only increase as the iPad generation becomes our leaders of tomorrow.”
Mackenna Moralez is the assistant editor with Healthcare Facilities Today