Professionals from major CMMS organizations shared their insights about the importance of CMMS solutions in the modern HTM space now and moving forward.

By Andy Lundin

With healthcare technology management (HTM) professionals busier than ever, a modern computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) can help them better maintain their devices. But one size does not fit all when it comes to CMMS technologies, experts caution.

“Every health system has unique needs, and they should evaluate those needs independently to get a solution that works for them,” says Amanda Moser, director of business development at Allen, Texas-based CMMS provider TruAsset, LLC.

Doing so, experts say, will ultimately allow medical systems to have a consistent and solid understanding regarding the state of their devices, and be able to address critical business needs as they arise. Below, several industry stakeholders share their insights about the importance of CMMS technologies in the HTM space today and moving forward.

CMMS 101: The Fundamentals

At a basic level—and specific to health care assets—CMMS technologies provide HTM professionals with detailed information about an asset’s preventive maintenance (PM) schedule or other servicing needs. A fundamental part of a CMMS solution is its ability to provide biomeds with a streamlined way to handle service requests.

Rich Sable, CBET, product manager of Charlotte, N.C.-based EQ2, LLC, describes the “bread-and-butter” functionalities of a CMMS solution as being the “applications that are used to make service requests and the application for the technicians to close work orders in the field.” These functions—at their core—are designed to support the operability of medical assets for patients. This is also an important aspect of ensuring that medical devices comply with standards.

“The primary focus is maintaining documentation and history on an asset’s preventative maintenance schedule,” adds Moser. “It should store documentation regarding procedures, repair work, recalls, and any other issues in the asset history. This allows the ability to produce that documentation in the event of a regulatory inspection, regardless of whether that entity is the Joint Commission, DNV, CMS, or a state health agency.”

These capabilities in their own right will help HTM professionals ensure devices meet basic but fundamental needs of their organization. Though a CMMS solution should—and usually can—accomplish so much more.

“All clinical equipment CMMS applications must have the ability to inventory the devices, schedule PM work orders, and report on the maintenance history and PM compliance of the devices,” says Heidi Horn, MA, AAMIF, vice president of healthcare marketing strategy at Paramus, N.J-based Nuvolo

Matthew Forrest, senior director of sales and marketing at Irvine, Calif.-based Renovo Solutions, echoes the significance of accurate inventory tracking. Put simply, he says, “having an accurate inventory is imperative in a successful program,” he says. 

But the needs of medical devices will continue to change alongside expectations for what constitutes a well-managed medical-device network.

“In the past, a CMMS was only used to manage the medical device inventory and associated work orders by the HTM department,” says Sable. “Today, the CMMS expanded to the role of an asset management hub that not only manages the medical device inventory and work orders, but also interfaces with other information systems to create efficient work processes for the entire organization.”

Understanding What Is Important and Why

While HTM professionals are able to use CMMS tools to better understand the state of their medical device network, if the intended users of these tools are having issues operating such solutions (or if they are too convoluted to use) essential insights that could be gleaned will effectively go to waste.

“The real test comes in when you use it as a technician daily and how streamlined your process is. A system should not require you to go to numerous places to perform data entry on a work order,” says Moser of TruAsset. “The whole goal of a system should be to improve patient safety and make the technician’s life easier—and some systems out there concentrate more on administrative functions and less on the technician with boots on the ground.”

While understanding the functionalities of CMMS technology is critical, so is uncovering any insights that will lead to the betterment of the health system’s network. Forrest of Renovo offers an example of how a better understanding of a health system’s operations via a CMMS tool can help improve business activity.

“We have an AEM (Alternative Equipment Maintenance) program built into ours that helps us manage large quantities of equipment data. If we can show you that a certain piece of equipment rarely fails, then why should you need to do the PM checks on them every year? This essentially means: ‘Hey, let’s not waste time doing all those unnecessary checks on equipment that rarely fails,’” says Forrest.

Indeed, these tools can help HTM professionals address PM scheduling needs in a more streamlined manner, which will subsequently allow them to dedicate time and resources to other critical matters.

“For those HTM departments that are optimizing their CMMS to track how their technicians are spending their time, what we’re seeing is a major shift from ‘traditional’ maintenance work to more and more time spent on ‘non-maintenance’ work—upwards of half their time is spent on things like cybersecurity mitigation, service contract management, capital planning, and a lot of multi-departmental project work,” says Nuvolo’s Heidi Horn. 

But HTM departments with alternative equipment maintenance (AEM) capabilities built into their CMMS can spend time doing “meaningful” activities, Horn says, rather than PMs that do not impact medical device safety. “This,” she says, “is changing the organizational structure of many HTM departments.”

Moser concurs, adding that these tools can help curb any confusion for staff within the HTM department. “Technicians also like knowing that when the last work order is done, then their day is done too. Managers like knowing that at the end of the day, the statistics they see on their dashboard are live and they don’t have to wait till the technician has an opportunity to get back in the office to enter data,” says Moser.

Connecting CMMS Technologies with Other Departments

CMMS technologies have become increasingly dynamic for the medical organizations they support, offering insights that can also benefit other internal departments, not just HTM. “Think about it,” Forrest says. “Even though a biomed department may use a CMMS almost exclusively, another clinician—say, a radiology manager—could also access it to check on an imaging device.”

Moreover, the interdepartmental connectivity provided via a CMMS helps foster improved communication in an organization. Horn says “advanced CMMS systems—like Nuvolo Connected Workplace for Healthcare—can even connect the HTM department to other support departments and functions—like IT, facilities, environmental services, real estate, space management—for full visibility and coordination between departments that work together.”

EQ2’s Sable notes the significance of having connectivity with procurement, which will help support how organizations manage their supply chains. “Unique trends that imply changes for the medical field include more interfacing with other information systems within the organization, such as the procurement system to automate the parts requisition process from within the work orders and accurately capturing the associated costs,” he adds.

“Overall, the product lifecycle is increasingly managed in the CMMS, as it can interface with the supply chain system so that the assets are entered into both systems automatically from the point of purchase, as are the updates for the asset retirement process,” Sable says.

Aaron Peters, implementation and product Manager for Phoenix Data Systems, notes that medical organizations are seeking to consolidate the seemingly endless critical business tools into one place to simplify their operations. “Clients are really moving towards a single solution system for all their needs,” he says. “They do not want to switch between different software applications to find the information they need to perform their job duties.”

Other critical figures who are finding CMMS information increasingly valuable? C-suite executives. Sable says that he’s seeing more chief financial officers and chief information officers attending CMMS demonstrations or system upgrade meetings to leverage the data for capital and financial planning and for cybersecurity initiatives for the information technology department.

CMMS technologies also provide deeper support for cybersecurity programs and initiatives, which has become increasingly important amid ongoing health network cybersecurity breaches. 

The Cybersecurity Problem

Ongoing cyberattacks in the healthcare space have remained a consistent pain point, with seemingly endless accounts of security breaches occurring across the world. Medical cybersecurity professionals are constantly looking for ways to prevent any future breaches on the systems or devices used in their network.

“Cybersecurity is at the forefront of all organizations and the medical industry is no different, especially with the number of ransomware attacks on healthcare organizations and the increased vulnerability of attacks on any one of the many older medical devices still in use throughout the healthcare landscape,” says Sable.

Moser of TruAsset shares Sable’s sentiments about the significance of having robust cybersecurity measures in place. “Currently, there is a huge focus on security and tracking security alerts,” she says. “Many healthcare facilities have had breaches or concerns with hacking and theft of patient information—and though this hasn’t been prevalent in the CMMS area, it has become a heightened concern in the healthcare community.”  

Thus, some CMMS organizations like TruAsset have started integrating their solution with Medical Internet of Things security companies to verify that IT and HTM departments are working with the same information.  

CMMS Tech: More Important Than Ever

Cybersecurity concerns in the medical space only accentuate how imperative it is that health care organizations integrate newer, and more robust solutions, like CMMS, to better manage their device network. Not being proactive, or being too reliant on legacy tools, will make it more difficult for medical organizations to find success, experts say.

It’s something Horn has seen firsthand. “There has been a dramatic evolution in the past 10 years in the role of the HTM department within hospitals, but not all CMMS companies have evolved with it,” says Horn. “HTM departments have so much more responsibility than just equipment planned maintenance and repairs these days, but they’re using legacy CMMS technologies designed primarily to track maintenance work. The CMMS is the most important tool and application the HTM department has. Everyone in the department uses it multiple times a day, so it needs to support all the responsibilities that HTM departments have.”

Medical networks that are still hanging onto legacy tools, and ultimately not reaping the full benefits of what more modern CMMS tools can offer, are essentially doing themselves more harm than good, Sable adds.

“I don’t think it makes sense for a medical system to not have a CMMS in place regardless of their size or budget,” he says. “If a spreadsheet is used for the inventory, it will become more time-consuming to extract information about the medical devices or to report on different device categories. Then there is the problem of work-order storage and retrieval, especially for regulatory reporting.”

To Moser, it’s a matter of cost versus benefit. She says because there is so much variance in available technology, it does not make sense for medical organizations to not seek out solutions that will best fit their budget and needs. “Often, the initial startup cost to import can be a hindrance to implementation,” she says. “Ask vendors if they have sales or discounted import options to get started. Sometimes signing longer agreements can reduce the startup cost.”

After all, Moser says, once the CMMS technologies are in place, the time savings in management and labor will more than compensate for the initial investment.

Spotlight On: Real-Time Location Services

If medical organizations want an even more robust overview of their medical device network, real-time locating systems (RTLS) can go a long way into helping HTM professionals better assess their critical assets—particularly, where they are located. A grander scope on the state of their devices will be provided when RTLS technologies are leveraged along with CMMS solutions. 

Jim Forbes, chief strategy officer for Atlanta-based Vizzia Technologies, says that while CMMS technologies provide insights on what certain medical devices are capable of, RTLS technologies offer more of a where, and essentially serve as a live, indoor GPS tracker for the assets. And with the sheer abundance of medical devices any given health organization needs to manage, having extra support provided by an RTLS solution is even more beneficial.

“Hospitals have seen a proliferation of expensive, mobile medical equipment within their facilities,” says Forbes. “The average hospital now has 10 to 15 devices per bed (a 500-bed hospital has between 5,000 and 7,500 devices).” He adds that the grander asset overview that RTLS solutions can offer HTM professionals—not to mention healthcare professionals who actually use the devices every day—will save hospitals valuable time that might be spent looking for devices.

“RTLS [technologies] help technicians know where the equipment is with minimal searching, which can reduce the time per work order and increase productivity,” says Aaron Peters, implementation and product Manager for Southfield, Mich.-based Phoenix Data Systems. “Getting more done in less time is critical with budget constraints that seem to be a constant problem.” 

Forbes agrees, adding that RTLS offers “demonstrable [return on investment] in saving hospitals millions in optimizing their equipment inventory and saving clinicians’ valuable time.” In fact, he says, nurses and medical technicians waste an average of 30 minutes per shift searching for misplaced equipment.

What’s more, Rich Sable, CBET, product manager of Charlotte, N.C.-based EQ2, LLC, says that RTLS technologies will improve the work order processes for the medical system. “When interfaced with an RTLS, the locations in the CMMS can be periodically updated or technicians can invoke a location update on their mobile device to assist with work-order completion,” says Sable. In other words, a good investment, indeed.