By Scott Trevino

It isn’t hard to understand why remote monitoring for clinical assets is so crucial for healthcare providers. Take a recent situation at a hospital in Indiana, where remote monitoring detected an MR scanner’s compressor turning off intermittently. A work order was created, and a technician scheduled a compressor replacement.

Afterward, helium pressure performance continued to be problematic, only for the technicians to determine the pressure-relief valve at the top of the hospital was stuck open—a rare occurrence. Preventing the compressor failure would have, on its own, been a success story for remote monitoring. Combined with the discovery of the relief valve, the hospital avoided significant unplanned downtime—and potentially a catastrophic magnet quench.

Preventing unplanned downtime is where the argument for remote monitoring begins and ends. This technology allows healthcare providers to keep their devices up and running, available for patient care. It’s estimated that 68% of medical devices will be network-connected by 2025, putting even greater emphasis on the need for real-time device monitoring.

For scale and efficiency, remote monitoring is a great way to help cost-effectively manage thousands of connected devices. However, the sheer number of devices is not the only reason remote monitoring is an essential component of any provider’s clinical asset management approach.

1.Care Will Continue to Move to Non-Acute Settings

Increasingly, there’s a trend in healthcare of transitioning care to non-acute settings. With an expected 30% of care occurring in outpatient facilities by 2025, device monitoring in locations outside the hospital is becoming more important. The pandemic has accelerated this trend (patients are less comfortable having procedures at a large hospital), but the shift was already underway.

Moving care to non-acute settings is a way for the healthcare system to reduce costs, plain and simple. However, reimbursements in these facilities—while increasing—are generally lower than in the hospital. Providers are going to be challenged to shift care economically.

What role does clinical asset management play in this equation? For example, if a provider has 3,000 devices in an acute-care facility, there’s an economy of scale for a team to service those devices on site. If the provider takes half those devices and moves them to multiple non-acute, geographically distributed facilities, the costs can become considerably higher to service all these sites. There are many facilities to visit, plus the logistics of moving parts, people, tools, and test equipment between facilities.

It is doubtful providers will have dedicated service personnel at every site. Nor is it optimal to have service personnel traveling from facility to facility to check device status. This all points to the critical role remote monitoring and servicing capabilities play in ensuring device uptime. A lack of remote monitoring would work against the economics of moving care out of the acute setting.

2. Productivity of the Service Labor Force Is a Must

Consider what happens when care moves into the home, with patients taking devices with them after procedures. Such devices, like those in the clinical setting, are increasingly sophisticated and connected. Providers must account for those devices, too. They have to be maintained and monitored and, logistically speaking, they’re difficult to service.

Remote monitoring will be essential for checking the device’s status, servicing it, and ensuring patient safety. The patient may not know how to operate the equipment, or the device may not be working despite the patient doing their part correctly.

With remote connectivity, the service team can get visibility into what’s happening there. If the issue can’t be addressed remotely, a service technician can be dispatched or a new device can be sent, minimizing any disruption to the patient’s care. Just as healthcare providers and third-party device servicers will have to wrestle with how best to manage equipment across a much larger footprint, so too will manufacturers, who have significant service operations of their own. Across the board, the service labor force must become more efficient.

No servicer, OEM or otherwise, can afford to send engineers out on the first call only to find that a device problem can’t be fixed. With remote monitoring, personnel can begin to troubleshoot without setting foot in the building. That technology is here, but it’s not about monitoring for the sake of monitoring. Even the benefit of increased productivity of the service labor force is ancillary to reducing unplanned device downtime, leading to lower costs and better patient care. Remote monitoring has to deliver on this promise. Otherwise, providers won’t implement it.

3. Monitoring Solutions Are Getting Smarter

Some of what a device has to say is simple but powerful, like seeing how much gas is in your car’s tank. It’s a basic measurement, yet knowing if you’re going to make it home or not is compelling. In the clinical setting, take an MR scanner, for example.

How much helium is in it? Is the power on or off? That information is certainly helpful, though it’s not an incredibly sophisticated look at what’s happening in that machine. In time, what remote monitoring and diagnostics will offer to servicers is a more predictive look at what’s happening with devices—anticipating how and when they will fail within a certain confidence interval.

If that same MR scanner has a part that has failed, you could repair it and send it back out. But there are other parts and, based on their wear, one can predict when they are going to fail, too. This form of “predictive” maintenance can eliminate or reduce cascading failures on the device.  Instead of anticipating when a failure will happen, steps can be taken to address the cause of the failure in the first place—making it so the device failure isn’t just predicted but eliminated.

This form of maintenance has the potential to reduce catastrophic events, which in turn reduces the need for capital equipment spending. The servicer can determine the optimal solution for when and how to proactively replace the part so that the device continues to operate with minimal unplanned downtime. Deciding if, what, and when to service is the avoidance quandary.

Servicing parts before they fail incurs costs in the near-term for the sake of avoiding expected (and greater) costs in the future—unplanned downtime, labor costs, catastrophic device failure, and more. In certain situations, the best solution might be to order parts in advance to have on hand for when they’re needed.

To have the luxury of choosing—to replace or not—is only possible when there are predictive analytics working from the data flowing in from remote monitoring and a software solution that’s learning and optimizing over time. Service providers are just scratching the surface, using this machine-learning approach to predict failures before they happen. It will have a significant, quantifiable financial benefit in the years to come.

Healthcare providers that have these solutions in place will be at a considerable advantage when it comes to ensuring devices are operating with minimal unplanned downtime as well as the economics of keeping a larger footprint of acute and non-acute facilities. So, too, will these benefits most likely expand to the home health setting, making in-home device usage more viable and reducing unplanned device downtime across all settings.

Cost pressures, labor optimization, and growing provider footprints all point to remote monitoring solutions being a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Service providers have been remotely accessing devices for some time. These technologies have proliferated so much in recent years as a result of the market being more ready than ever.

Further changes in the healthcare landscape will accelerate the need for providers to prepare, if they haven’t already, for implementing remote monitoring. Providers care about knowing if these solutions are keeping costs down, keeping devices running, and ensuring patient safety and care. Remote monitoring has already proven its ability to deliver in these areas.

Scott Trevino is senior vice president, product management and solutions at TRIMEDX. Questions and comments can be directed to [email protected].