By Patrick Gale

Medical equipment is a necessary yet substantial investment for any health system. Making strategic decisions about these assets can be daunting in the face of shifting patient demand, financial uncertainty, and fast-changing cybersecurity risks.

Because clinical assets account for an average of 25% of a health system’s capital expenses, it’s critical for health systems to make informed, intentional decisions to optimize their asset inventories. Without proper management, data-driven insights, and planning, medical equipment can become a burden on an organization—especially when circumstances and priorities change.

At the same time, it’s crucial to invest in technology that leads to better patient outcomes, enables greater efficiency, and drives additional revenue.

By making more key metrics and data trends readily accessible to decision-makers, health systems and capital planning committees can increase their options to meet new needs with existing resources, confidently know when to eliminate or replace assets, and continue to drive more return on investments in medical equipment.

Health systems should have a firm grasp of their inventory and needs

To maximize the value of clinical assets, a health system should establish a baseline of what devices and equipment it has and what it truly needs. Health systems without a firm grasp of their existing inventory—both purchased and rented—and without an accurate view of their needs will struggle to make smart equipment decisions.

Most health systems have more inventory than they need. To enable fact-based, actionable decisions, health systems should assess all data captured on each of their medical devices to fully understand their inventory beyond anecdotal inputs.

Often the most efficient and effective approach is to work with an industry partner who has access to national benchmarking data, and the technical expertise to integrate utilization data, cyber risk data, and key maintenance service data from other systems. As the data is continually updated in near-real time, a health system can evaluate and analyze their clinical assets to make strategic decisions with confidence.

Artificial intelligence-driven algorithmic approaches can make recommendations about devices that have reached the end of their useful life and devices that are highly utilized, underutilized, or present a risk to the organization. This can help a health system determine which equipment should be replaced, which should be upgraded to extend its useful life and defer replacement costs, which should be sold or traded in, and which should be reallocated to a higher demand site of care.

These data-driven insights enable health systems to make objective decisions for the entire health system, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence or the demands of a singular site of care. With accurate data, health systems can also improve their long-term capital planning process to drive savings.

Unmanaged clinical assets can become a burden on health systems

Unused or underutilized medical devices and equipment can become a burden on health systems in a variety of ways. The cost of upkeep and maintenance can add up quickly. TRIMEDX has found for every $1 million in capital purchases, health systems face annual operating expenses of $50,000 to $100,000.

In addition, when unnecessary equipment is taking up valuable physical space in a hospital, it could keep operations from running as efficiently and smoothly as possible. That space could be better used to provide patient care, store supplies, stage equipment, and more. A health system can also lose out on potential resell opportunities by letting a device depreciate as it sits unused.

Keeping unnecessary network-connected equipment or devices can increase a health system’s cybersecurity risks as well. If a connectable device is not being used or barely being used, but is still sitting in a hospital, it is providing cybercriminals with another potential entry point to access the network and wreak havoc.

Healthcare organizations can also benefit from using a Real-Time Location System (RTLS) to monitor connectable and non-connectable device locations and movement throughout the health system. This complementary data further strengthens the information that can be used to make confident decisions while sustaining the outcomes aligned to those decisions in the long-term.

As an example, health systems often face unnecessary operational expenses because of rental assets sitting unused. An RTLS can help a health system quickly see when rental equipment should be returned to eliminate the operational expense.

Making reallocation easier for decision-makers

Health systems often spend unnecessary resources buying new equipment for one facility, when they already have the same equipment sitting unused at a different facility. Instead of buying or renting new equipment, the health system could reallocate their existing, unused assets.

One way to make reallocation easier for decision-makers is by using a centralized platform to make available devices visible to all sites of care within the health system. Visibility is often a key hurdle to effective reallocation strategies. If clinicians or others across the health system are looking to purchase or rent a device or piece of equipment, they could first turn to the internal marketplace and avoid a major capital investment.

Maximizing the value of surplus medical equipment

Once a health system determines a piece of equipment is no longer needed, it should assess all opportunities to maximize the asset’s value. An informed-disposition strategy can help a health system determine if the best course of action is to trade in excess equipment or sell it at auction or to a broker.

Removing surplus medical equipment helps health systems eliminate unnecessary expenses, maximize the return on asset investment, and free up financial resources.

A health system must put the people, processes, and technology in place to ensure it is making the most of its clinical assets, instead of letting them weigh down the organization. Health systems with a solid understanding of their inventory, including data points such as utilization, cyber-risks, and maintenance service history, among others, will have the ability to understand true needs across their fleet of assets. They will also have more flexibility to make smart strategic decisions and prepare for any changes and challenges the industry may face.

Patrick Gale is vice president of clinical asset management for TRIMEDX and leads the company’s Clinical Asset Management and Informatics solutions aimed at enabling health system executives to achieve repeatable and sustainable financial and operational improvements within their clinical asset inventory.