One day our descedents might very well take a tour at some museum of natural history, and wandering into the wing housing the exhibit on early 21st century humans, they might observe interactive images of office workers hunched over glowing desktops with open windows of email and Excel. They’ll likely gaze in the same kind of wonderment as we do of Neanderthals wielding primitive stone tools. We can’t take that guided tour at the Smithsonian just yet. While we’ve been heralding the death of spreadsheets and email for years and will continue to do so, the truth of the matter is they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Sometimes we just need to see them for the tools that they are.
Most of us are familiar with automotive recalls like the ones that are frequently in the news, like Takata’s airbag recall that affected over 33 million vehicles. Those working in healthcare technology management (HTM) are also acutely aware of medical device recalls, which happen more frequently than most people realize. In the four years between 2005 and 2009, the FDA reports that manufacturers conducted 87 recalls on infusion pumps alone. It’s not news anyone likes hearing, but when a hospital is notified of a recall like the recent one on Alaris pumps, it can affect thousands of devices that are scattered across the hospital. Just finding these devices in a hospital can be a massive undertaking. After sending out emails to nursing staff, informing them of the recall, it’s not uncommon for HTM departments to have a dedicated staff member scouring the hospital in search of the devices. Once they are taken out of service for repair, the nursing staff and operations teams immediately feel the squeeze of having less equipment on hand. It is an arduous, time-consuming process, but there’s a way to turn that pain into gain.
Mainspring Healthcare Solutions is excited to announce a new partnership with PartsSource that will transform how healthcare technology management (HTM) departments manage their parts inventory. Over the last decade, the two companies have been the leading innovators in their respective markets; PartsSource with its highly automated parts procurement solution and Mainspring with its integrated equipment lifecycle management platform. The new partnership will deliver greater benefits to clients, including significantly reduced parts costs, improved staff productivity and detailed visibility into parts consumption, spending and quality.
If you watch enough hospital dramas on TV, not only do the physicians usually all seem to be experts in multiple specialties, but by the end of each episode, the heroic doctor will most likely find a miraculous cure for the deadly disease afflicting their patient. The hospitals themselves seem to exist as a perfectly self-functioning organism of organization and infrastructure. What the cameras don’t show you is the real-life army of dedicated employees working round-the-clock to keep everything running smoothly. During National Health Care Facilities & Engineering Week, ASHE (American Society for Healthcare Engineering) put a spotlight on these folks — “Health Care’s Behind-The-Scenes Heroes”, as they call them. We couldn’t agree more.
While they may not be the first thing that comes to mind walking into a hospital, the facilities and engineering departments are very much the nuts and bolts of hospital operations. They’re managing plumbing, electrical, heating and ventilation, overall building maintenance; inspecting and servicing biomedical equipment and keeping the machines in the hospital safe and compliant. What they do has a direct impact on everything and everyone in the hospital.
Climate change is a big, sprawling, complex, hotly-debated issue and has been for some time. Here’s an interesting fact though: Only 35 percent of U.S. households actively recycle. If that number reached 75 percent, it would have the environmental benefit of removing 50 million cars from the road each year. Give yourself a pat on the back next time you bring those plastic bins out curbside. While it’s not going to fix everything, it seems like a fairly simple action that companies and individuals can take to make some change. What about healthcare in this country? That other, big, sprawling, complex, hotly debated issue. Can we find any low-hanging fruit there?
I was visiting a new client recently, discussing a project we were doing at their hospital to clean up their equipment data. While looking at some of the data in their legacy system, we saw many inconsistencies and mistakes that had managed to creep into the database through the day-to-day activities of the users over the years. For example, they had several device types, manufacturers and models describing a single piece of equipment, which was causing inventory reports on that equipment to be incorrect. With multiple naming conventions for one specific piece of equipment, it was difficult to manage recalls and alerts, because the database had to be manually screened to find everything affected. It was even more concerning that the inconsistencies in the data caused problems in preventative maintenance scheduling for the equipment.
We live in an information age where reliable data is everything. Informed decision making with technology and the data behind it is not just a smart choice, but a way of life for most of us. Better and faster information is available at our fingertips, and it’s making our lives easier. Technology plays a major role in delivering that information, but we often forget that in most cases, technology relies significantly on other humans to provide that information in the first place.
An interesting bit of tech news that made its way across social media not too long ago was the revelation/admission that the Windows 3.0 version of Solitaire, and subsequently released games like Minesweeper, Hearts and FreeCell were created, not just for entertainment, but as clever teaching tools designed by Microsoft to introduce computer users to the fine art of “drag and drop”. Remember this was 1990, and GUIs (graphical user interfaces) just started to become commercially available in the previous decade. For some users this was their first interaction with a PC, and everyone else had been brought up interacting with computers by typing out command-lines. It seems to have worked. In no time, command-lines were out and point and click was in.
We have a time honored tradition in New England, on the eve of every blizzard, of ransacking local supermarkets shelves for bread, milk, water, canned goods, batteries—the essentials. If you go right before the heavy stuff starts, eyeing the barren shelves you’d think it was the end of days. We can’t help it. The news anchors, the weather team and our civic leaders all encourage us to stock up on the necessities and stay off the road. But let’s be honest, they’re just preaching to the choir. We’d do that last minute shopping anyways, because we know, when that storm hits, if we really need something, we won’t be able to get it. The stores are all closed, the roads are dangerous and impassable—the system is broken, so we all become a bunch of snowbound hoarders.
This year marks my 10th anniversary working on wireless tracking technologies. As a young electrical engineering student intrigued by all things wireless, my first encounter with radio frequency tracking was during a research assistantship at the University of Maryland, where I evaluated technologies for improving supply chain automation. I was blown away by the fact that a Band-Aid-sized electronic sensor could essentially make anything in physical space identifiable in the digital world. The terms "Internet of Things" and “IoT” were not commonly used back then.
From a ten-thousand-foot view, the technological nuances of wireless tracking can be intimidating, but once the basics are understood, it can be an extremely powerful tool. Notice the use of the word “tool”, because that’s exactly what wireless tracking is—an enabling tool and not an entire solution. In this blog, I break down the concepts of RFID and RTLS, the advantages and disadvantages of both, and their role in automation, specifically how it pertains to hospital workflow.