Find the Device, Save a Life: Tracking and Locating Medical Equipment During a Pandemic
Hospitals are complex organisations with thousands of moving parts that operate night and day. There is no downtime, and at any moment a sudden crisis could send healthcare workers scrambling for a specific piece of equipment needed to save a patient's life.
But what if the required medical device is not in sight or is unavailable? How do doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals track the tools of their trade when their existing monitoring systems are archaic? Or when resources are either shared or scarce?
Take something like a wheelchair. It doesn't make economic or practical sense to have one for every patient or every bed. But if you need a wheelchair in the middle of the night to take a patient for a test, you must first locate it. And if the wheelchair isn’t where it’s supposed to be, then you or someone else has to go looking for it, which means being diverted from patient care.
But what if you could track wheelchairs, ECG machines, ventilators, infusion devices, beds, patient hoists, and other medical devices the same way you can track your Uber driver? Well, now you can. And we do.
Tracking Medical Devices in Real Time
is the medical division of . You probably know our parent company from our tools and storage portfolio, but like so many other businesses, we have leveraged our primary expertise and applied it to health services. I'm our sales manager for Northern Europe, and my territory covers Ireland, the U.K., and the Nordic countries. At STANLEY, we don't just sell equipment and then move on. We pride ourselves on our after-sales service and work hard to establish long-lasting partnerships that help healthcare providers maximise patient outcomes.
We also strive to adapt our technology to the digital transformation journey that the UK government has set out to all Acute NHS Trusts. As we all know, COVID-19 has proven to be one of the most immediate and disruptive issues in recent memory, particularly for the medical community. Together with our and more specifically, the , however, we all rose to meet the unique challenges.
Located 10 miles apart, the Calderdale and Huddersfield hospitals employ 6,000 healthcare professionals and serve more than 450,000 people in West Yorkshire. The Trust that manages both hospitals has earned a reputation for leadership in healthcare technology innovation and had been considering our AeroScout real-time location platform as part of the next step in its digital transformation journey. The solution complements the NHS’s core Scan4Safety initiative, providing focus to drive further improvements in operational efficiency, cost savings, and clinical outcomes—particularly the release of nursing time back to patient care.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of this year, the Trust realized how valuable our Asset Management solution could be in dealing with the expected surge in patients, and accelerated its deployment plans.
Adopting Real-Time Technology to Fight COVID-19
Some background: AeroScout is a real-time location system (RTLS) platform that combines hardware and software to locate and protect people and medical devices. Mobile medical assets are equipped with small radio frequency tags (about 3 x 4 cm), and staff members wear similar badges—usually attached to their ID badge.
We even make a special tag to protect newborn babies from abduction with our Hugs infant protection solution. These tags and badges use the hospital’s Wi-Fi network to communicate to the system at regular intervals to update the location and when there’s been a change in status. For example, if an infusion pump has been placed inside a soiled room, it will indicate that it is ready to be cleaned. The tags and badges run on batteries, which are either rechargeable or replaceable, with the latter lasting two to three years, depending on use.
The system also compliments government initiatives around the Scan4Safety project, providing focus to drive further improvements in operational efficiency, cost savings, and clinical outcomes within the NHS, the obvious compelling benefit identified through Scan4Safety was the release of nursing time back to patient care.
The software component is our MobileView software, which is available for desktop and handheld devices. This dashboard-based utility shows the location and status of persons and assets across an entire organisation. It works by triangulating the location of the tagged item or badged individual using the three nearest wireless endpoints, supplemented by other equipment to provide room-level resolution or to monitor exits or other chokepoints.
AeroScout can also track any devices with MAC addresses, including laptops and tablets, which are often the first items to go missing. Simply launch the app on any desktop or laptop computer, smartphone, or tablet, and search for an individual item or person. You can also create user and administrator accounts that limit the devices and functions your team members can access depending on their role. That way everyone gets the information they need without distractions: Nurses can quickly find equipment, engineering staff can optimise maintenance and utilization, and security personnel can keep everyone safe.
We'd been in talks with Calderdale and Huddersfield about the AeroScout portfolio of solutions for several months, beginning in 2018. AeroScout was part of a digital transformation initiative designed to improve efficiencies and lower costs through loss prevention and by reducing the time needed to locate equipment. When COVID-19 hit Britain hard, our medical facilities became overwhelmed and every bit of kit was needed. Hospitals shifted their strategies to address needs instead of wants, and AeroScout became a crucial component of Calderdale and Huddersfield’s pandemic response.
Creating Separate Spaces to Keep Patients Safe
Under normal circumstances, hospitals have strict infection control protocols in place. Measures include frequent handwashing, the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE), and rigorous cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Patients with infectious diseases are isolated to prevent them from infecting others and to protect their compromised immune systems.
When the pandemic broke out, healthcare providers had to amplify and multiply these efforts to treat an unprecedented influx of cases. To treat afflicted patients while containing the spread of the novel coronavirus, hospitals across the U.K. radically transformed their operations overnight.
Faced with a surge of highly infectious cases that needed critical and extended care, hospitals had to create separate COVID-only areas with even stricter infection controls and highly restricted access. Staff was kept to a minimum in those spaces, and visitors weren't allowed. Neither people nor equipment could migrate back and forth between the COVID and non-COVID areas.
There was also a shortage of life-saving devices such as ventilators, and staff needed to decontaminate and sterilise reusable equipment faster and more frequently due to increased demand. There was so much at stake, and stress levels were high.
Amid the chaos, it was easy to misplace a vital piece of equipment, and the consequences were potentially catastrophic. More than ever, doctors and nurses needed to know the location and the status of every ventilator and infusion pump. They didn't have time to go looking for one if a patient went into distress. And what if someone forgot to decontaminate a device, which made it back to the COVID ward, or went from the COVID ward to another part of the hospital?
With resources stretched to the limit, it made no sense to ask staff to track medical devices on paper. Calderdale and Huddersfield reapplied for funding to implement AeroScout, and the AeroScout purchase was approved. We knew we had to move fast; the coronavirus infection rate was only increasing, and there was no time to waste.
Once the project was approved, we were given one week to inventory and tag 1,000 pieces of equipment. But due to the isolation measures in place, none of STANLEY support team were allowed on site. Instead, with the collaboration of the Trust IT teams, we had to remotely guide the Calderdale and Huddersfield engineers through the AeroScout installation to achieve a great outcome. Thankfully, the hospitals run on Cisco Wi-Fi technology, so we were able to connect seamlessly and everything went off without a hitch.
A Futureproof Partnership
STANLEY Healthcare is a major Cisco partner. We recently teamed with the networking giant to integrate AeroScout with the location services cloud platform. We’re proud that we were the first RTLS healthcare provider to do so. Cisco DNA Spaces delivers a scalable location-based platform that is also compatible with existing Cisco Aironet, , and infrastructure, as well as select Cisco Collaboration endpoints.
We added AeroScout to the Cisco DNA Spaces app centre in late May, two months after we deployed it at Calderdale and Huddersfield. The Trust has yet to adopt this powerful new tool, but its AeroScout deployment was built to run atop Cisco DNA Spaces and is therefore futureproofed. When they're ready to upgrade to the new system, STANLEY will be there to help the Trust move forward.
Indeed, Calderdale and Huddersfield have big plans for the future: They are planning to add 4,000 more tags and have recently started using AeroScout's environmental monitoring solution. Following a recent CQC inspection visit, the Trust was required to provide an automated solution to capture ward-based refrigerator temperatures and ambient air temperatures where pharmaceuticals are stored and prepared. We recently installed 450 temperature-sensing tags on the same AeroScout platform to fulfill this requirement.
A tag is placed in a fridge, and temperature ranges can be set, typically ranging between 2° C and 8° C. The tag sends temperature date via the network every half hour. If the temperature ever falls outside this range, an alert is triggered. Typically, the ward manager will get a text message if immediate action is required, with an escalation process in case they don't respond within the given time frame. Staff can then quickly move the medications to another storage unit to maintain their efficacy and to prevent spoilage—which can save the institution a lot of money.
These tags also collect long-term temperature data. You can see whether a particular refrigeration unit has issues staying cool in the summer, for example, and then schedule maintenance or purchase a replacement. Again—it's all about improving efficiencies and patient outcomes. No one wants to waste taxpayer monies by throwing out bad medicine due to a faulty fridge, nor would anyone want to unknowingly treat a patient with medication that was kept at an improper temperature.
Investing in Patient Outcomes
Even as we’ve gotten a better handle on COVID-19, we are still in the early stages of this AeroScout deployment, and the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust is right-sizing ward-level and medical-engineering resources. As publicly funded healthcare providers, they have to maximise the value of every investment, which means investing in goods and services that put patient outcomes first.
STANLEY Healthcare is proud to build on Cisco infrastructure to help these two hospitals serve the West Yorkshire community's medical needs. Adopting AeroScout will help these two hospitals maintain service levels and streamline their operations. We’re confident that they’re building their system for the future, and we know that they can rely upon our products and support along the way.