By Dave Klumpe

Hospital leaders face a capital expenditures predicament with their medical devices. On one hand, they obviously need available devices to provide care. On the other hand, budgets are limited. Having too few devices is a problem—but so is having too many. 

The conflict between a hospital’s budget and its device availability can be solved, however, by better forecasting the lifecycle of medical equipment. Accurate forecasting balances the assurance that you have the right amount of equipment in the right places to provide quality care while keeping in check operational costs and capital expenses. 

A host of factors can make forecasting challenging. But hospitals can employ sophisticated technologies to help them strategically plan ahead and maximize their budgets. A comprehensive clinical asset management solution can support total cost of ownership analysis, extend the useful life of equipment, and drive financial savings. The approach should be data-driven and provide valuable information regarding inventory, downtime, productivity needs, and regulatory issues—all of which help the management team make informed decisions and accurately forecast equipment needs.

The Challenge of Medical Device Forecasting 

Forecasting the lifecycle of medical equipment can be complicated and multifaceted. For one thing, visibility to clinical asset inventory can be limited. And purchasing behaviors can be misaligned with clinical needs. Finally, the unique nature of medical device maintenance can make lifespan predictions difficult.

An accurate clinical asset inventory is the first step. You, of course, can’t know what equipment you need without first understanding what you already have. Inventory visibility is also critical to assessing the status of each piece of equipment in your fleet. 

TRIMEDX data, for instance, indicates that health system medical device inventory can vary up to 40% between what administrators think they have and what they actually have on-hand. Furthermore, based on data collected from more than 4.7 million clinical assets, TRIMEDX estimates that most organizations use only 40%-50% of the assets in their inventory on a daily basis.

Assumptions, gaps in workflow processes, and personal preferences within departments prompt hospitals to think they need more equipment than they do. Consider the issues that arise when departments make purchasing decisions in a silo. They might be buying similar equipment from different manufacturers from different vendors, which eliminates cost efficiencies, adds to total cost of ownership, and presents additional challenges to lifecycle planning.

Compounding the inventory uncertainty is how prevalent mobile devices are today. In fact, TRIMEDX data indicates that 85%-90% of a health provider’s clinical assets are mobile, and mobile devices by their nature can be difficult to keep tabs on. Add the additional challenge of how rented medical equipment can cloud inventory visibility, and you see how knowing your actual inventory isn’t so straight-forward. 

The unique nature of how medical devices are maintained also presents difficulties in managing the total lifecycle of equipment. Other than in instances of an FDA recall, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) may not provide or push software updates or patches, though they may be approved and available. As a medical device ages over the years, the likelihood that the OEM will choose to stop supporting it grows as the manufacturer’s focus shifts to supporting new equipment product offerings.

When support ends and a problem arises, a clinical asset management solution can help evaluate whether the issue—for instance, a software vulnerability—can be remediated in some way, whether the problem presents a safety risk, or if the device should be replaced. But if it’s uncertain when the manufacturer support ends, it’s difficult to predict the lifecycle of a device. 

Maximizing ROI with Data

A clinical asset management solution that couples robust inventory management with powerful analytics can help overcome these forecasting challenges. Insight begins with accurate visibility into your entire medical device fleet in real time. A computerized maintenance management system tracks, manages, and reports on all clinical assets. Knowing the devices that a health system actually has helps align equipment needs with patient demand.

A comprehensive solution also goes much further. It can provide real-time data not just on inventory but also on regulatory compliance; historical performance; utilization; cyber vulnerabilities; and total cost of ownership factors such as maintenance, service, parts, failure rate, and downtime. 

Sophisticated algorithms synthesize and analyze the data to provide recommendations on whether a device should be replaced or whether better options exist. For instance:

  • A device can be upgraded: A health system can extend equipment life and performance for years after the manufacturer ceases to support a device. 
  • A device can be reallocated: With an accurate inventory and a clear understanding of device needs across a health system, a provider can reallocate devices from one hospital to another to better align with demand. 
  • A device can be disposed of: Even with disposition of a device, a health system can find value. After all, equipment no longer in use might be in demand in the resale market. A clinical asset management solution can determine fair market value. 

An additional value of a sophisticated solution involves cybersecurity. A technology that detects and remediates threats also is helpful in lifecycle management. A risk assessment that evaluates the medical device profile, device behavior, and the potential impact on patient safety can help drive recommendations on whether to replace, upgrade, or dispose of a device. The relationship a clinical asset management provider establishes with manufacturers also helps to acquire OEM-validated software patches or, when patches are unavailable, application of compensating controls to ensure protection of vulnerable assets. 

Finally, a clinical asset management solution helps maximize the return on investment with each equipment purchase. Remember: Equipment should never be purchased without the data-driven insights such a solution provides.

Elevating Equipment Forecasting 

A comprehensive solution allows a hospital to strategically plan ahead in its medical device lifecycle management, yielding savings in both operational expenditures and capital expenses. With a clear understanding of inventory and better forecasting of need, hospitals can avoid making short-term decisions that hinder long-term goals.

Put simply, health systems are in a better position when buying. One, they know exactly what equipment they need. Two, in buying systemwide rather than department by department, they can consolidate spend, boost buying power, and negotiate better prices. 

The use of a clinical asset management solution also allows a hospital to avoid costly service contracts that are not only unnecessary but may not be aligned with organization-wide goals on equipment purchasing decisions. Service contracts put in place with the OEM at the time of original purchase can come at a high price because they commonly don’t take the internal talent and external resources you already pay for into consideration. This scenario can worsen with multiple departments dealing with multiple manufacturers.

Let’s face it, medical device lifecycle management and forecasting can be complicated endeavors. There can be costly missteps if taken without a clear understanding of device inventory and clinical asset needs. But a third-party clinical asset management provider leveraging a technology solution that works in real time can help a health system better manage its fleet now and also better prepare and spend for its future needs. 

The solution can extend equipment life and performance for years. It can save hospitals money because equipment decisions and staff training are driven by data, not personal perspectives or preferences. It decreases downtime and repair costs. It eliminates waste by aligning the medical device inventory with clinical needs. 

After all, clinical asset management should be one area in which your hospital is consistently saving money, not spending it. 

Dave Klumpe is president of clinical asset management at TRIMEDX. Questions and comments can be directed to 24×7 Magazine chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at editor@24x7mag.com.