Real-time locating system helps staff find equipment quickly
September 1, 2022
Canadian hospital teams face challenges managing the medical equipment they need to deliver world class patient care. What if a tool could contribute to both improving patient care as well as improving staff satisfaction and efficiency? The deployment of GE Healthcare’s wireless asset tracking technology earlier this year, has helped Orillia’s Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital (OSMH) in finding wheelchairs, bladder scanners, and dozens of other items in mere minutes, allowing more time to be spent on quality patient care.
For example, it’s important to have wheelchairs available for patient use in the hospital lobby and ER entrance, but all too often they would wind up in units throughout the six-storey building. There was no way of finding them other than sending out an email asking staff to report their whereabouts or dispatching a search party to locate them, explained Tom Roberts, the hospital’s chief financial officer and executive vice-president of corporate services.
Now with the deployment of GE Encompass, a Bluetooth-enabled real-time, location system (RTLS), hospital staff simply enter the name of the item they’re looking for in the web application to find out where it is and how long it has been there. If it hasn’t been moved in hours or days, chances are it’s sitting in a corner or on a shelf and available for use.
Jo-Anne Chandler, the hospital’s director of materials management, found that it took 40 minutes to locate and retrieve an item in a test using the traditional method of calling each department. Using GE’s Encompass, it took three minutes.
Real-time asset tracking allows hospital staff to spend less time looking for equipment and more time with patients. It also gives hospital administration an accurate accounting of inventory and utilization, preventing procurement of new equipment if current supplies are adequate and underutilized.
The application identifies when preventive maintenance was performed and when it’s next due for maintenance. It also identifies the item’s date of acquisition, allowing hospital administration to plan for replacement of equipment due for retirement.
In April 2021 during the COVID pandemic, for example, the Ontario government asked hospitals outside the Greater Toronto Area, including Soldiers’ Memorial in Orillia, to open more ICU beds to relieve the pressure on Toronto’s overcrowded hospitals, recalled Brian McWilliams, general manager, commercial, for GE Healthcare Canada.
In preparation for the anticipated transfer of patients, Chandler, the hospital’s materials management director, received a request to order 40 infusion pumps. However, after consulting GE Encompass, she was able to confirm the hospital already had 24 pumps available, requiring the purchase of only 16.
“That allowed the hospital to open the new ICU beds in 48 hours instead of a couple of weeks, and saved them $83,000,” said McWilliams.
OSMH has approximately 1,000 items tagged with Bluetooth low-energy tracking beacons communicating with wireless routers throughout the hospital. Among them are ventilators, vital sign monitors, CPAPs and stretchers. The real-time location data is stored in the cloud and available to hospital staff throughout the hospital on computers, smartphones and tablets.
Encompass was released by GE Healthcare in the United States in 2017 and is only now being rolled out in Canada and the rest of the world. Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital in Orillia, a 198-bed community hospital that’s 145 kilometres north of Toronto, is the first healthcare facility in Canada to deploy the solution.
“Encompass is less onerous to implement than previous generation location systems because you don’t have to open the ceilings or drill into the walls of a hospital to install cable,” said McWilliams.
Previous generation systems were also more capital intensive because hospitals used capital dollars to purchase them upfront. With Encompass, they’re able to use operating dollars by paying for them using the software as a service subscription model.
Encompass can be installed in a matter of days instead of months and costs up to 60 percent less than traditional cabled location tracking systems, according to GE Healthcare. Additionally, there is no requirement for separate, dedicated on-site application and database servers for the hospital to maintain and no dedicated software to update.
“That means less involvement required by hospital IT resources, which are always quite stretched,” said McWilliams.
The high upfront cost and the increased complexity associated with the installation of cabled systems have limited the market penetration of real-time location systems to between 15 and 20 percent, according to GE Healthcare.
“They are most common in new builds when included in architectural plans and much less common in existing and older hospitals, but I expect that to change in the next number of years with the availability of wireless systems payable by subscription,” said McWilliams.
How did Soldiers’ Memorial in Orillia become the first hospital in Canada to acquire GE Healthcare’s Encompass solution?
“We’re very fortunate,” said Roberts, the hospital’s chief financial officer and executive vice-president of corporate services. “We’ve had a longstanding relationship with GE going back 40 years, so when they were looking to bring this solution to the Canadian market, they asked if we would be interested in supporting a pilot deployment.
“We’re in a bit of a sweet spot as an organization. We’re one of the largest medium-sized hospitals in Ontario, so we have the expertise to take on leading-edge technology projects. We’re also small enough as an organization to be nimble, so it’s the characteristics of the organization as well as the trusted partnership of 40 years.”
GE Healthcare is currently in discussions with several other Canadian hospitals interested in the Encompass solution.