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We did it ourselves! How a hospital set up real-time asset tracking to save time finding equipment.

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Find out how an Australian hospital implemented asset tracking in 5 steps, reducing the time spent finding things when they need them most.

There's a point at which technologies make the leap from being the domain of specialists to being useful to everyone else. They get 'democratised.'

Think about computers. They were once the domain of the data centre, and then the PC geek. And then windows-based point-and-click interfaces came along and were simple enough that we could all use them. The hardware became cheap enough to buy and easy enough to set up that we put them in our homes. Then on our laps. Then in our hands. And thanks to Elon Musk, we now even buy them with wheels on and drive them fast. (There's an interesting short article on Wikipedia about democratisation of technology).

Time slipping through our hands

There's a similar revolution to this starting to happen in asset tracking systems (although it's been a long time coming – tracking technology is hardly new).

Why would that be interesting and why would you care?

Because we all waste far too much time around our workplaces trying to find things. If you add up the hours spent by each person looking for things each year you'd most likely shock yourself. That's time spent not adding the value you're employed to provide. This means that if you're a business owner, or a manager looking to do more with the same resources (or less) then you're almost obligated to care. Staff time is one of your most valuable resources.

By way of illustration, let's look at how a busy, mid-sized (around 300 bed) regional public hospital significantly reduced their time wasted searching for equipment in a few small, low-risk steps with Pinpointer's software partner, Spotto.

Step 1: They decided what problems to solve first

The hospital knew that there were many competing needs to satisfy, but rather than have some sort of 'big bang' approach they wanted to gain confidence that they could prove a solution would work for a particular group and their problem first.

A meeting of all of the potential stakeholders (all of whom could see that they would benefit from tracking their equipment) agreed that the Environmental Services team, who had the most to gain, would be first, and would 'own' the solution to begin with. They also agreed which types of improvements they were looking for and how they'd measure them.

Step 2: They worked out a meaningful pilot and installed it

Targeting one smaller floor of the hospital with only 9 zones, they were shown how to install a reader and how to register assets into Spotto. Through this they confirmed that they could do the full installation themselves. They tagged a small number of assets. They also proved (within minutes) that it all worked. They left the pilot running for a couple of weeks to gain confidence and confirm stability.

Step 3: They fitted out the whole hospital and proved the initial use case

Using what they learned from the pilot they expanded around the entire hospital with more readers and tagging hundreds more assets. They used existing power points for the readers and didn't need to do any extra wiring. Each reader took less than a minute to install. They named zones in ways that all hospital staff would understand (often very colloquial names). And then started using the system to find their equipment – and measured the improvement.

Step 4: They tuned the system. Themselves.

Initially, around 50 readers were installed to achieve their searching goals. The Environmental Services team soon realised that they could function with fewer readers in some areas and needed more readers in other areas. The flexibility and simplicity of the solution enabled them to move readers around themselves in order to achieve maximum visibility and efficient use of assets. As they've identified other areas and assets that they'd like to apply real-time visibility to, they've added more readers and more assets to their scalable solution.

Step 5: They trained other user groups.

Environmental Services had the first need, but almost every ward (plus ICU and Emergency) also wanted to track assets. Because the ES team were now the experts they trained other departments to tag items and how to use Search. They're also the team that makes sure that the readers are all healthy.

Where next?

The system has opened up a plethora of opportunities. Whilst the Pinpointer/Spotto system at the hospital is currently being used for tracking assets inside the hospital, it can be easily extended to track assets in other places such as patient homes using mobile phones as readers. Spotto can also be used to trigger alerts on all sorts of events like a person or equipment arriving at a place, or exiting the hospital. Integrating these alerts into other applications like workflow systems can be done using Spotto's APIs.

So, what makes a solution 'democratised' ?

The first factor is that the technology should be de-mystified. It should look simple, unthreatening and be very easy to install for the user group who are going to 'own' it – like the best devices from Google, Apple and hi-fi maker Sonos. And it needs to give very quick gratification back to the installers to gain their confidence.

The next factor is to make it easy for the everyday users (like nurses and volunteers in this case) to use the Search functionality. To do this means providing an interface they're familiar with (like a Google search bar in a browser) and, very importantly, it needs to allow them to make mistakes and still find the thing they're looking for.

The technology should enable you to start small, then expand out steadily, letting you prove the worth of the solution and the acceptance of your users without the risk of 'big bang' expenditures. And it should allow you to tune and modify the solution to suit your needs without expert help.

And lastly, needless to say, any democratised solution also needs to be cost effective and not require much maintenance. Users need to be able to look after it themselves – and so over-the-air updates for security upgrades and feature enhancements should be as automated as possible. Back to Elon Musk for a moment... Tesla owners consistently rave about how the over-the-air upgrades to their cars constantly make things better.

Unleash the power of local experts

The exciting thing about a democratised technology that everyday users can get going is that it puts the power to create new and innovative solutions into the hands of millions of potential 'local experts' rather than just a few professional tracking experts. Just like the Environmental Services team we've spoken about.

It's not rocket science but it could make a huge productivity difference, not to mention the lowering of staff frustration and the potential to save you over-investing in equipment because you can't find things when you need them.

To find out more...

If you'd like to discuss how Pinpointer could help you to do more with what you've got then please give us a call

The article above is attributed to Spotto, preferred partner of Pinpointer.

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