IT analysts: Hospitals next for special device management?

by Todd Shields

Driven by software solutions over the Internet, e-business companies are supplying the healthcare industry with increasingly valuable data. Some analysts believe this form of service — customer relationship management — will be a $40 billion market in 2001.

Yet, another Internet-driven service is getting new attention, one that heavy industry – mold injecting, food processing, and fuel refining – has been using for 
about 10 years. And if hospital resource managers have foresight, they might start learning more about device relationship management.

As defined, DRM is when manufacturers have the ability to monitor their machines from far away, thus capturing relevant customer usage patterns and the real-time need for timely warranty reports, pay-for-use billing, and ideas for building next-generation equipment.

According to market observers, previous DRM systems were used mostly for documenting maintenance reports at the point of breakdown. But the worldwide speed and connectivity of the Internet has vastly improved the deep understanding of equipment performance, while not diminishing the importance of accurate repair forecasting.

Spokesmen for eMation Inc., a designer of Internet-based DRM programs in Mansfield, MA, said makers of complex hospital equipment are virtually on the brink of purchasing their software technology.

Hospital plans

Respecting contractual agreements, eMation’s representatives declined to name the companies at press time. But they said their DRM package will be installed in clinical laboratory machines of six major hospitals this month.

“Today, you have big capital equipment items in hospital labs that analyze hundreds and even thousands of blood and body fluid tests each day. The service is intense and complex,” said David Bennett, eMation’s North American sales representative.

“The manufacturer that makes two service calls a month to each machine could save millions if they had our product. Hospitals would save in downtime, too.”

Dave Helinek, marketing manager for eMation, added the traditional strategy of maintenance crews simply “reacting” to equipment breakdowns is old history with monitoring via the Internet now possible.

“The service guy dialing into a machine with this laptop is still OK, but our idea of having thousands of machines reporting to its manufacturer is unique. It’s 
proactive,” explained Helinek, also describing eMation’s technology as “wake-up diagnostics.”

“Machines monitor themselves and every so often wake up and tell a manufacturer to ‘come see me’ with the right repair parts,” he said.

Strengthening the tie between customers and vendors in reducing the need for regular maintenance visits is where eMation cuts a new swath, said Warren Wilson, Summit Strategies, an information technology marketing and consulting firm in Boston.

“I would say eMation has brought a significantly new piece to the device management puzzle,” he said.

Other IT market watchers foresee DRM software expanding to patient-care monitors, especially when short-staffed hospitals don’t have time to keep close maintenance records.

Patient care

While DRM before relied on programmable controllers that notified programmers only when manufacturing machines were falling behind on units of output, now such an approach is not acceptable for quality patient-care machines that require replenishing consumables.

That’s why eMation’s fledgling venture into healthcare is noteworthy, said Sharon Ward, director of enterprise applications for the Hurwitz Group, Framingham, MA.

For instance, because scheduling patients for computerized axial tomographies (CAT scans) is irregular, maintaining usage records, and knowing when parts may need replacing is equally irregular, she said.

“DRM programs, on the other hand, can provide alarms for keeping acceptable parameters up and running. I think they can contribute a lot to patient care,” she said.

As a result, she sees eMation at the head of a pack – a pack that could hit the marketplace soon.

She said eMation’s venture is “fairly new” because it offers manufacturers advance notice of equipment failure.

“Communicating the need for maintenance puts eMation ahead of the competitive pack, but it’s a short lead,” Ward said. “What they’re doing is not that big of a stretch.”

Today, with so many hospitals equipped with Internet infrastructure, implementing eMation is not much of a financial stretch for administrative decision makers, according to analysts.

In some cases, maintenance instructions can be transmitted over the Internet to a hospital’s engineering technician, who can fix the breakdown in-house. Otherwise, paying a service tech $100 an hour “is an enormous expense for any hospital,” said Craig Resnick, a senior analyst for ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, MA.

“The same approach to fixing and monitoring on-site equipment via the Internet can be done with heating and air conditioning units and patient ventilation 
systems – all the way down to elevators and lighting systems,” Resnick said.

“Some joke and call it the ‘big brother’ connection, but it’s an underrated area for all the areas I just mentioned.”






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