By Amy Knue 

Building a medical equipment management strategy is a careful balancing act between long-term goals and immediate needs. Clinicians have a responsibility to deliver the best care possible to patients, which often requires a variety of medical technology resources. Capital planning committees strive to make smart investments in assets that will contribute to efficiency and sustain clinical operations into the future. With many hospitals operating at miniscule, non-existent, or even negative margins, the challenges of aligning these goals are greater than ever.

Many hospital leaders are looking to alternative options from capital purchases to meet their equipment needs, including renting medical equipment. Renting can address specific clinical needs where patient demand fluctuates over shorter time periods, even in more predictable situations such as seasonal respiratory illnesses. Rental equipment, such as specialized hospital beds, can also help address the unique needs of certain patient populations. 

Health systems need to be ready to accommodate bariatric patients, those with limited mobility, or incapacitated patients such as stroke victims. However, keeping these types of beds on hand permanently can be an inefficient use of financial investment and storage space when compared to their limited utilization. Rentals provide a responsive and affordable method for providing these types of resources that are not often needed but are crucial for effective care.

By strategically renting certain equipment types, hospitals can respond to short-term demands without making long-term financial commitments. Renting equipment also offers a lower upfront cost compared to purchasing with capital budgets. This financial flexibility can be particularly appealing to hospitals with strained financial margins or those facing uncertainties regarding patient volumes. At first glance, all these advantages can seem like a quick, easy, and cost-effective solution to clinicians in need.

Risks Posed by Renting to Clinical Operations

Renting equipment poses significant risks to clinical operations when not managed with an emphasis on efficiency. Hospitals often overestimate the need for additional rentals due to a lack of visibility into their existing inventory. This gap arises due to inconsistent practices in storing, managing, and maintaining mobile equipment among facility departments and clinical teams, ultimately leading to an imbalanced availability of equipment.

Moreover, such inconsistencies can create unnecessary competition for resources among clinicians who are all striving to provide high-quality care. This is especially true for mobile medical devices frequently used at the point of care, such as infusion pumps, sequential compression devices, and Bair Huggers. Many of these equipment types are commonly rented to address short-term needs. Nursing staff often spend large portions of valuable time locating and disinfecting equipment instead of focusing on direct patient care. Under these conditions, nurses are often hesitant to relinquish these devices once they have them.

Shifts in patient demand can often be unpredictable for clinicians working on the front lines of patient care, and so can their access to the types of equipment that are commonly rented. The COVID-19 pandemic was a prime example of this: Sharp spikes in hospitalizations resulted in increased demand for equipment purchases and rentals. 

Combined with breakdowns of global supply chains, the spikes resulted in medical device shortages in a wide variety of clinical areas, making it far more difficult for hospitals to rely on either channel. Without a comprehensive understanding of their inventories and how rental and purchased equipment can be optimized to meet clinical needs, health systems in these situations could face serious threats to the continuity of care.

The absence of centralized management for rental equipment can also have significant financial implications. Recurring expenses from excess rentals erode already narrow profit margins, while overlooked rental equipment leads to accumulating charges. 

Rental equipment that is needed for a specific patient may easily end up stored and forgotten after discharge if nobody within the facility is monitoring utilization and managing returns. In these instances, specialty equipment will continue to accumulate costs without providing any additional value to patient care. Without a robust system for tracking rental equipment, hospitals can quickly lose visibility into their inventory, resulting in unnecessary costs.

Four Strategies for Managing Rental Equipment 

To make that sound decision, a health system needs a strong knowledge of its inventory—both rented and purchased—and a program to monitor and understand medical equipment utilization. Here are some strategies for success: 

  1. Establish clear lines of communication and responsibilities: Health systems should designate clear and commonly understood roles and responsibilities for managing rental equipment. By strengthening communication between biomedical engineering teams, medical equipment managers, nursing leadership, and capital planning committee members, health systems can increase the visibility of financial impacts and enhance responsiveness to reduce unnecessary costs. With improved communication and a shared understanding of processes, different stakeholders can also take charge of their distinct roles in managing equipment with the confidence that their colleagues are all working toward the common goal of maximizing the availability of patient care resources.
  2. Standardize equipment management processes: A consistent process for managing easily misplaced equipment is essential. Equipment stakeholders, including clinicians, biomeds, and capital planning committees, can work together to standardize how equipment is stored, located, and prepared for patient use. Establishing centralized equipment staging areas throughout facilities can expedite maintenance, disinfection, and inventory tracking. Health systems can capitalize on this standardization to better monitor inventory levels and demand to best utilize hospital-owned equipment before strategic rentals. And ensuring that inventories match patient demand can reduce the administrative burden on clinicians, allowing them to focus more on patient care.
  3. Improve clinical asset inventory data and visibility: Reliable and accurate inventory data on the entire clinical asset inventory—including owned equipment and commonly rented equipment types—enable health systems to better assess their true rental needs. By leveraging inventory management systems and expertise in medical equipment maintenance, hospitals can achieve better inventory tracking, reducing the risk of oversights and unnecessary rentals.
  4. Implement lean rental processes: Operating a leaner medical equipment management program involves ease of availability of hospital-owned equipment, renting only when strategically sound, and standardizing prompt returns of rentals once immediate needs are resolved. This proactive approach reduces operating expenses. However, it requires robust inventory management practices to monitor and respond to changes in usage status promptly.

Renting medical equipment has the potential to help health systems optimize resource allocation, improve operational efficiency, and reduce costs. However, these advantages are only possible by incorporating rentals into a comprehensive medical equipment management strategy. 

By understanding where the needs for rentals exist, the risks associated with unmonitored equipment, and how to optimize return on investment through efficient utilization, hospital executives can make more informed spending decisions. With standardized practices, clear responsibilities, and enhanced inventory management, health systems can strike a better balance between achieving financial savings and providing the resources that clinicians and patients need.

Amy Knue is the vice president of mobile equipment services for TRIMEDX, where she leads TRIMEDX’s Mobile Medical Equipment management service offering. Questions and comments can be directed to chief editor Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].