The consequences of missing medical equipment

by Robertus Oosterwijk, Marketing Executive

When was the last time you were in a rush but got delayed because you just couldn't find your keys no matter where you looked? Imagine the pressure if it were a medical device instead of keys - vital for the treatment of a critical patient.

When it comes to simply keeping and maintaining their clinical equipment, hospitals on average are disconcertingly inefficient. Reports of equipment not being returned to their stations are numerous, with equipment shortages resulting in delayed treatment or even discharge. Consequently clinical staff spend considerable time and effort searching for missing devices. A study commissioned by The Nursing Times together with GS1 UK reported that nursing staff spend up to two hours in every eight-hour shift searching for equipment – time they would otherwise spend caring for their patients.

If 25% of nursing time is spent searching for equipment, not only does it have a negative effect on the patient experience, it is also very costly given that this figure equates to approximately 125,000 nurses effectively spending all of their time looking for things. Moreover, missing equipment leads to substantial and unnecessary re-procurement costs.

A particular NHS trust reported that 15% of its known critical assets (with a value of £22 million) had been reported lost over the last five years. During the time of reporting they only had 6% of equipment being returned to their device library and estimated that the cost of replacing their entire missing inventory would be more than £140 million.  

What is causing all this equipment to disappear? Simply put, in the day-to-day activities of a hospital, items end up being mislaid, not getting properly checked-in, accidentally taken home by patients or otherwise stolen. Lack of proper asset management will easily lead to critical inventory leaving trust sites and becoming unavailable for further patient care. With the total cost of wasted resources estimated to cost the NHS in excess of £2 billion and the cost to patient care unquantifiable, this approach is unsustainable.

Asset tracking

A simple cost-effective solution does not only exist, it is already established in some of the UK’s leading trusts. The same trust mentioned earlier had the amount of returned devices increase to 45% once they had implemented RFID asset tracking. Tracking systems like iFIT™ operate by attaching a hybrid of passive and active GS1 tags as well as the latest beacon technology on items to track their location throughout a hospital site.

Implemented RFID tracking instantly improves quality of care by having the right medical device at the right place at the right time without wasting any nursing resources. The effort required to locate devices for scheduled maintenance, alerts or product recalls is vastly reduced. It also facilitates greater device utilisation (reflected in the increased movement).  Many assets such as incubators and pumps are underutilised and spend more time in storage waiting for cleaning or calibration than actually being used. Whereas previously no one had had an overview of where assets were and what they were doing, thanks to RFID greater value can now be obtained from the investment made into each device.

Changes like these are why in his interim and final reports published this year, Lord Carter stated the importance of implementing GS1 barcoding standards in order to drive efficiencies in inventory procurement, operations and patient care in the NHS:

"Very few trusts are able to demonstrate even a basic level of control or visibility over total inventory or purchase order compliance that is common practice in other health systems and industrial sectors such as retail...To truly performance manage quality and efficiency on a regular basis, seamless real-time data is needed, which in turn requires investment in inter-operable information technology.”

He understands, as many other trusts should, that the barriers to progress are minimal and the time to act is now.


Want to know more about RFID Asset tracking? Get to know more about iFIT and iAssets – visit the page to learn more.