Tag Archives: asset tracking

Medical Asset Tracking: How to Get Started

An explosion of new medical inventions is great news in all but one respect: asset management.

A wealth of cutting-edge devices helps patients and staff, but it also means keeping track of a flood of new gear. Unfortunately, storage space and logistical systems don’t always get the same level of attention as the shiny new technology coming into the hospital.

So, how does a modern hospital manage this glut of new devices?

How can hospitals use medical computers to implement the same kind of asset tracking that has served warehouses and industry so well?

Locating Equipment

The first two questions asked by any asset management project are “What do we have?” and “Where is it?”

The asset tracking chain has to begin when the machine, tool, or supply item arrives. As soon as it comes off the truck, a barcode or RFID tag should be applied, defined, and scanned into the system. This should include the initial install location of the item, cost, expected life cycle, and any other relevant information.

Once this information has been entered into the system, it’s just a matter of education and policy to make sure hospital staff are scanning equipment when it gets moved to a new location. Almost every room has a computer on wheels or medical tablet nearby, which can then use built-in barcode and/or RFID scanners to keep every piece of gear cataloged and ready.

Reduce the Time Spent Hunting for Medical Gear

According to a survey of over 1,000 nurses, a third of nurses spend 1 hour each shift just trying to find commonly-used equipment. 16% said they experienced incidents where they eventually just gave up looking and did without the equipment in question. The survey also found that mattresses, pumps, thermometers, keys, and IV stands were the equipment that tended to disappear the most.

A central asset management database tied to scanner-equipped medical tablets and computer carts would allow staff to look up the gear they need. The database could even be configured to display a map of that particular room or floor, guiding the nurse or doctor right to the location of the wayward instrument.

Fighting Theft

According to a report by ADT Healthcare, an estimated 52 million dollars in medical supplies and equipment are stolen by patients every year.

ADT found that most patient theft happens, not surprisingly, right in the patient’s room. Items like scrubs, linens, pillows, and phones are the most common targets, but patients have stolen otoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and desk chargers. Even wall clocks have found their way into patient backpacks and purses, if you can believe it.

With expensive or bulky items tagged with RFID, and less expensive items printed with barcodes, tracking theft becomes much simpler. With each item tagged to each room, and each patient scanned into the same room, it’s not difficult to match the missing item with the potential pilfering patient.

It’s essentially a system not unlike the mini-bar at a hotel. The hotel knows who’s in the room, and they know what’s in the fridge, and when it disappears they know just where to send the bill. And while charging patients for missing items may not be as simple, it’s at least a great place to begin the investigation.

As for staff theft, staff smart cards or individual RFID fobs can mitigate much of the issue. When every storage closet and bin is locked by RFID — and also set up to record whoever uses it and when — accountability deters the worst of the thefts.

ADT found that even something as simple as a scrub vending machine tied to smartcards lowered theft of scrubs by a significant amount. Now imagine the far greater consequences of being caught stealing expensive, easily-traced medical equipment or illegal drugs.

Knowing the Life-Cycle of Medical Machines

Asset tracking isn’t just for fighting shrink and theft. It’s also about knowing what condition your equipment is in, how old it is, and the last time it received cleaning or maintenance.

It’s a simple concept: maintenance techs who diagnose, repair, replace, or clean a vital device like an advanced diagnostic imaging PC or a Da Vinci robotic surgery machine could scan the RFID tag or barcode, and enter it into the maintenance tracking system. Then, all repairs, replacements, and cleaning cycles can be recorded and time-stamped.

From there, an automated system could let administrators, techs, and regular equipment operators know when it’s coming time for another cleaning or maintenance check-up. This saves time, increases general productivity, reduces equipment downtime, and ultimately expands the usable life cycle of all devices.

Improving Sterilization Tracking

Infection is one of the greatest dangers in medicine. Sepsis affects 30 million people in the world per year, according to the World Health Organization. Infection is also potentially responsible for the deaths of 6 million of those affected.

From operating rooms to laboratories to dentist offices, thoroughly sterilized medical equipment represents the front line of the war against infection.

While current healthcare sterilization methods are fairly advanced in most developed countries, there’s always room for improvement and error-checking when humans are involved in any process. The Center for Disease Control has strict guidelines on what surfaces need to be sterilized, how often and with what acceptable method.

Asset Tags for Medical Equipment

All medical instruments and machines can be tagged with RFID tags, sticker barcodes, or even permanent barcodes that can be etched or stamped into smaller instruments (like scalpels). When these instruments are being cleaned, the staff member can scan the tag with a handheld scanner, medical tablet, or nearby medical computer with a built-in RFID or barcode scanner.

This not only updates the location of the equipment, but it can also provide a “last cleaned” date stamp on the spreadsheet or database. These can either be reviewed manually to create a cleaning schedule, or set up to notify relevant personnel when an item has passed it’s “clean-by” date.

Chain of Responsibility

This also creates a system of accountability — when an instrument wasn’t properly cleaned, it can be traced back to its origin. In 2015, surgeons at a Detroit children’s hospital had to halt an open-heart operation on a 7-month-old because they found a previous patient’s blood still clogged in the tube of a bypass machine.

Sterilization tracking would not only make it possible to locate the person or machine responsible for the mistake, but such granular accountability would make future staff members more vigilant about cleaning instruments.

Tracking Instruments Used on Patients

In keeping with the “chain of responsibility” concept, RFID and barcode asset tracking techniques can also be used to keep a full, secure log of every piece of medical equipment used on any particular patient.

Scanning a patient’s wristband is standard procedure in most hospitals these days. The clinician could then scan the medical device about to be used on the patient, or even any medical device that enters the patient’s room for a higher-level perspective.

At the end of treatment, the patient’s entire journey through the hospital would be recorded, including each blood pressure cuff, digital thermometer, heart monitor, or MRI machine that came in contact with the patient.

This kind of tracking granularity is not only important for accurate medical records, but it can actually be used to help prevent mishaps. It’s difficult for a sponge or other piece of medical equipment to get left inside of a patient when a nurse or doctor scans every bit of gear before and after surgery to account for it.

Securing Pharmaceuticals with RFID Tags

The “Drug Supply Chain Security Act,” introduced in 2013, mandates that medical facilities use a comprehensive drug-tracking system to prevent fraud. The opioid epidemic is a real concern, causing 115 deaths per day, a large portion of which could be prevented by better drug-tracking systems.

Barcodes are already a vital component in drug tracking systems, which is why having a medical computer or tablet with an integrated barcode scanner can be such a boon for asset tracking.

Storage of commonly-used drugs could be keyed to staff RFID tags, which are waved at a door sensor. The storage unit then unlocks (based on the user’s credentials), and records who accessed the drugs and when they did it.

This isn’t just for theft mitigation. These features also help with inventory, depending on how granular you get with ID tags, warning purchasers when it may be time to order more medication.

Secure Equipment Helps Patients, Doctors, and the Bottom Line

The financial benefits of asset tracking for medical devices simply can’t be overstated. Save on shrink, theft, poor maintenance, sterilization snafus, and lost productivity with an air-tight tracking system.

Contact Cybernet to learn more about how to implement medical computers and medical tablets to protect hospital supplies and long-term assets.

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How to Streamline Asset Tracking with Industrial Grade Tablets

Whether you’ve never fully embraced asset tracking, are looking for a new method, or just want to save on paper, it’s time to look into a digital asset tracking system for the most important equipment in your facility.

Asset tracking is different from inventory tracking, though they are commonly confused. Inventory tracking is the tagging and cataloging of the products moving in and out of your warehouse for sale. Asset tracking, on the other hand, is about keeping tabs on the machines, tools, and vehicles that allow your business to keep running.

But how can an industrial grade tablet make all of this possible? And, most importantly, how necessary is asset tracking?

Why Do I Need Asset Tracking?

Asset tracking is, in some ways, more important than inventory tracking — a missed product can be an inconvenience, a cost-of-doing-business bit of shrinkage. A missing propane tank, pallet jack, or welding machine — or the breakdown of a forklift that hasn’t had regular maintenance tracking — can bring operations to a complete standstill.

A system of RFID asset tracking tags, barcodes, and industrial tablets PCs can track equipment from the moment it arrives and gets deployed, to cleaning and maintenance, up to its final retirement and replacement.

Regular asset tracking reduces theft and increases safety — when equipment is proven to be regularly serviced, there’s less chance of the kind of sudden breakdowns that could endanger staff members near (or using) the machines.

Asset tracking also improves hazardous material handling, ensuring that all waste materials, biohazards, radioactive elements, or dangerous fuels and chemicals are always stored in the proper place (and for the correct amount of time between inspections).

RFID Tagged Tracking for Vital Assets

RFID tags are small plastic cases that contain a tiny computer chip and radio antenna. They use radio frequency and a unique, individual bit of programming to store data about the asset: type of equipment, location, maintenance schedule, age, use hours, and more.

Then, a worker with an industrial grade tablet containing a built-in RFID reader can scan assets whenever they use them, are looking to clean or maintain them, or are simply trying to find the right tool for the job at hand.

When to Use RFID Tags

Big equipment like trucks, forklifts, sweepers, mowers, pallet jacks, and the like — especially particularly mobile equipment — are great candidates for RFID tagging. They’re expensive, they’re vital, and they often require regular maintenance, three things RFID tagging is best at.

RFID tags can be used to create a check-in/check-out system for important tools, a system that records when tools were taken from storage. With individual worker IDs, the system could even record who took the tool, how long they used it, and when they brought it back.

Agriculture uses RFID tags to track and label livestock, while research labs use those same tags to keep an eye on lab animals like monkeys and guinea pigs. When a vital component of your operation has four legs and a mind of its own, that’s a smart thing to keep tabs on it.

When Not to Use RFID Tags

RFID tracking isn’t perfect for every piece of equipment, or for every situation. Naturally, radio interference can affect the scanning process. Most background radio won’t be a problem, but if your business involves a lot of EM interference it could present a problem.

RFID tags are also more expensive than barcodes, so it isn’t wise to slap one on every wrench and trash can in the facility. Instead, stick to using RFID tags for vital equipment, and gear with a value that far exceeds the cost to tag it. A lower threshold of around $300-$500 might be a good starting place for RFID tagging.

Another pitfall to watch out for — if RFID-tracked equipment is stored in very close proximity, it may be difficult for the industrial tablet to get a solid, accurate read. If the items are stored close enough, it’s possible to accidentally grab the next item over. For most uses — big machines, vehicles — this doesn’t really come up, but it’s still an important tip to remember.  

Barcodes for Asset Tracking

Barcodes were invented over 60 years ago, but are still the most popular form of digital identification for objects in the world. It’s not hard to see why – they’re cheap, they can hold a lot of information, and they’re totally universal.

Barcodes are useful for inventory, but they can also make asset tracking much simpler.

When To Use Barcodes

When it comes to asset tracking, barcodes are perfect for smaller or less expensive items.

Slapping a barcode on all of your frequently-used tools and storing them next to an industrial PC with an integrated barcode scanner is a great way to have employees check the tools in and out. The worker uses the industrial PC to log in, grabs the tool or tools they need, scans with the same computer, and goes to work. This process would then repeat when they went to lunch or left for the day, checking those same tools back in again when they clocked out.

A process like this not only helps to minimize theft, but it also keeps track of use-hours for each individual tool, which can aid in maintenance, cleaning, and replacement schedules.

There could even be a cleaning, oiling, or maintenance area for the tools, and the tool’s barcode is scanned afterward to create a maintenance log.

Consider using barcodes for replacement parts. Spare tires, filters, gaskets, blades, drill bits — barcodes can be slapped on all of these items so the company knows exactly how many replacements they have and when its time to order more. This is doubly important for when replacement parts for a particular machine or piece of equipment are custom, expensive, or take a long time for delivery.

Barcodes can also help eliminate some of the loss typically associated with incidentals like returnable packaging. Racks, reusable pallets, large containers, drums, sleeves, and other forms of returnable packaging don’t always come back, and it can be impossible to figure out where they went without some kind of tracking solution. Barcodes are quick and cheap, so if the item in question does get lost the company isn’t out the price of an RFID tag (or the price of several).

But, the barcode (when scanned as it leaves the facility) can point the company to where the pallet or gas cylinder was sent and subsequently never returned.

When Not to Use Barcodes

We’ve already discussed why RFID tags are better for larger, more expensive equipment. However, that isn’t the sole benefit.

Barcodes require a physical line-of-sight between the barcode and the scanner on the staff member’s industrial tablet (or other barcode scanner). If the item in question is something like a crate, box, or other bit of packaging that is ever flipped on its side or turned around, that could present a problem. A barcode on the top of a crate that’s been stacked three high isn’t helpful. In these cases, an RFID tag would be far superior.

Barcodes can also be easily damaged. Placing a barcode on a wrench and then tossing it into a bucket of other tools could easily scratch the barcode off. A pallet that’s being constantly grabbed by a forklift could lose its barcode, as could any item with a paper barcode that is stored outside during inclement weather.

Barcodes also require good lighting to read, which is not always available in a storage room in the corner of a warehouse.

Do You Know Where Your Assets Are?

Did you know that 55% of small businesses don’t track assets at all? Or, if they do, they’re still using a manual pen-and-paper method? Researchers have also discovered that up to 65% of the asset data that is being tracked is either inaccurate, incomplete, or entirely missing.

They even estimated that 10% to 30% of the assets that do show up on the report are no longer even owned. There are called “ghost assets,” and they can be a massive drain on any company.

Keep your budgets accurate, your replacement parts accounted for, and every piece of vital equipment properly maintained on a regular schedule.

Contact Cybernet today to learn more about the industrial grade tablets and industrial computers that can integrate all of your tracking needs into one tidy package.