Eye on material flow:network solutions for hospital logistics

Hospitals need an accurate assessment of the location and quantity of their materials to eliminate sources of error. Automated processes can also help employees to make these materials available at the right time and at the right place. Digital network systems will substantially support the logistics in the hospital of the future.
Armin Schorer

In this interview with MEDICA-tradefair.com, Armin Schorer describes the role networked logistics solutions play in today's hospitals, explains the requirements that have to be met for their implementation and ponders the future development of hospital logistics.

Mr. Schorer, what role do networked logistics solutions play in hospitals today?

Armin Schorer: Networked solutions still do not play a big role at the moment. They have not been implemented yet in most cases. Many hospitals have not given any thought yet to the necessary requirements for this type of integration. Even though there are tools available for the digitization of hospitals, the responsible hospital planners are not always familiar with them.

So essentially there are no actual complete network solutions on the market yet?

Schorer: There is a pilot project at the Charité Berlin, which we equipped with our systems last year. Yet even this solution is not completely integrated yet. There are definitely more options available, but they would involve major changes in both the personnel department and the administrative sector. This does not mean that these would result in a reduction of staff but simply refers to a drastic change. Digitization does not just involve the implementation of software or an electronic solution. If a medical facility wants to implement these types of digitization strategies, management has to also carefully consider how and with whom it wants to carry out these plans. Personnel structures and responsibilities must be adjusted to that effect. What’s more, staff members have to be open to digitization and not object and be opposed to it.

What do hospitals look for in terms of technical features or technical performance when they are interested in logistics solutions?

Schorer: So far, most hospitals we have encountered are more likely not very knowledgeable about what is currently technically feasible. On the one hand, clinics are not interested in short-term solutions, which is why they tend to look for service providers that promise reliability due to their high profile and degree of popularity. On the other hand, sustainability is also a very important aspect for them. Most facilities want a technical system combined with long-term consulting and support services. This assistance and continuous process improvement and optimization are designed to create a reliable partnership. Correspondingly, the technical solution itself has to be process software and not just documentation software.

Networked systems and instruments that are equipped with RFID chips will be able to support OR logistics in the future. They could for example make sure that the requirement amount of tools is on-site.

You have briefly mentioned your company's solution. How do the logistics solutions of ASANUS work? What are their components?

Schorer: We provide process-oriented software. Hospitals can specify and store the required processes so that staff members are able to execute the defined processes, application areas, and tasks. In other words, the employees do not use the software and control the processes, but instead, follow the predetermined steps. That is the quintessential difference compared to other solutions on the market. This ensures that errors can be avoided. Needless to say, people sometimes make mistakes in their work or documentation. We are only human.

One concrete example of this is the cleaning of surgical instruments: cleaning, disinfection, sterilization, functional checks – meaning the field of hygiene. Mistakes in this area bear a high risk. Our software recognizes the RFID chips on the instruments. In doing so, both the instruments and the staff members are digitally integrated into the processes. This makes it nearly impossible to forget important steps.

In addition, our solution manages the complete material logistics process between surgical planning and inventory management system, for example, SAP or other AP systems as it relates to availability. If medical staff currently plans a surgical procedure, there is often the risk that instruments or materials are unavailable right at the time when they are needed. The ASANUS software and the RFID system present all processes in real time. This lets planners check whether all steps are feasible. There are so-called material availabilities and reservations and the ASANUS software manages and reviews the entire material workflow planning process. The software also lets users make changes and reschedule patients or materials and use alternative materials, for example.

Basically, all movable tools and devices of a hospital can be equipped with RFID chips to monitor the movement of material. Patients could also wear one of these chips.

Which products can feature affixed RFID chips?

Schorer: At the Charité, for example, the RFID chips are attached to surgical instruments, individual tools. You could also attach the chips to expensive equipment or hospital beds, for example, and even patients could wear them. They are essentially useful on all things that move. Theoretically, every item in the hospital inventory can have an affixed chip. Medium-sized or large hospitals often have expensive inventory items, but administrators often are unsure as to where this equipment is located or whether it is actually still being used. The chips can make all of these processes more efficient.

What trends do you see to that effect for the future of hospital logistics?

Schorer: Undoubtedly, in the future, fewer processes will be managed with barcodes and increasingly more will be implemented with RFID chips in the areas of software and digitization. Processes and workflows can thus be increasingly automated and sources of errors eliminated. In essence, automated registration of all workflows, all materials, relevant media, and patients will be possible in real time. This will promote increased economic efficiency and improve patient safety in the future.

The interview was conducted by Timo Roth and translated from German by Elena O'Meara.