Mobile tech expands to strengthen supply chain links

Smaller devices push for larger gains in point-of-care, point-of-use performance


When fictional industrialist Diet Smith introduced to Dick Tracy in his eponymous comic strip the “2-Way Wrist Radio” in 1946 and then the “2-Way Wrist TV” in 1964, he might have envisioned physicians sending prescriptions to pharmacies, radiologists reading X-ray images and supply chain managers monitoring inventory locations and tracking individual products remotely via mobile devices.

Today, more than a half-century after Smith’s futuristic inventions made the funny pages, healthcare organizations employ mobile tech for a variety of communications, electronic interactions, and tracking and tracing functions. They include identifying patients and linking those patients to the proper clinical procedures and products used on them, tracking and managing access to and usage of medical/surgical and pharmaceutical products and equipment, tracking specimens for the laboratory, and transmitting data to electronic health records and billing.

Mobile tools employed by clinicians and administrators run the gamut between hand-held computers and mobile readers, including smart phones, wrist-mounted devices and electronic eyewear that can project images and instructions via online/wi-fi-enabled chips.

In short, if mobile capabilities represent the future of healthcare interoperability, then welcome to the future. Clinical and supply chain operations continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, leaping over broken barriers even as they face and strive to be at least one step ahead of ongoing issues with security concerns.

The point is/of use

Carl Natenstedt

Mobile access makes it a good time to be in healthcare business if it’s simple and seamless, according to Carl Natenstedt, CEO, Z5 Inventory Inc., Austin, TX.

“Mobile technologies, including voice, scanning and other solutions that can accompany today’s powerful mobile devices, enable great advances in healthcare supply chain,” he said. “By placing easy-to-use mobile technologies that are reliably connected to the primary operational systems like ERPs and EHRs in the hands of clinicians and support staff, we can enable the capture of real-time product usage information accurately and consistently. This data, when analyzed with modern data mining techniques can open up new opportunities for operational improvements unlocking savings previously unattainable. The key to success for new mobile solutions is ease-of-use. These solutions need to be as simple and unobtrusive to use as today’s modern social media apps. They need to run on reliable, easily integratable platforms, making them ubiquitous in the clinical setting.”

Chris Luoma

Mobile tech merely breaks down the barriers, such as access and boundaries, between functions and locations that limit workflow, emphasized Chris Luoma, Vice President, Product Management, GHX, Atlanta.

“The primary basis for mobile is moving technology to where the work of healthcare happens,” Luoma noted. “This can be the point of care, stocking locations or in a warehouse. By delivering information previously siloed in core systems — ERP, EMR, WMS, CRM — to employees, both providers and suppliers can empower employees to make better data-driven decisions.”

Mobilizing clinicians and administrators alike creates a ripple effect, Luoma continued.

“Better decisions lead to lower costs and improved outcomes,” he said. “At the same time, mobile as a capture device can drive efficiency and savings into processes, such as inventory management, that today are heavily manual and burdened by many steps in the process. Mobile technology will also continue to evolve and provide impact to patient safety, by proper device/supply information being tied into use, recording, and tracking of critical information.”

Gregory Seiders

Mobile tech can fuel financial and operational opportunities in several ways, which Gregory Seiders, Director, Supply Chain, Claflin Co., Warwick, RI, categorizes as preventing losses in terms of costs or increasing revenue.

“While mobile technology can certainly aid in preventing losses, perhaps the largest opportunity is increasing revenue through capturing patient charges,” Seiders insisted. “With clinicians rightfully focused on properly completing procedures and patient care, it is little surprise that not all billable items used in a procedure are recorded on paper. Mobile technology can be used to quickly tie captured bar codes and lot numbers to patient Medical Resource Numbers (MRNs), with scanning capabilities speeding data recording and preventing common errors. The inherent benefits of speed and accuracy lead to improved efficiency, lower cost, and a chance to create an environment of continuous improvement within the supply chain.”

Michael DeLuca

Michael DeLuca, Executive Vice President, Operations, Prodigo Solutions Inc., Cranberry Township, PA, homes in on billable benefits that mobile tech can bring.

“A good example is with the ‘Bill-Only’ process used for surgical procedures, typically [involving] implants and orthopedics,” he said. “The procurement/supply chain process usually starts with capture of what gets used at the point of use. That capture is typically done by a medical device representative and an employed surgical tech/nurse at a hospital. The medical device representative is capturing use to send a signal back to his or her company that product was used. This enables the company to bill the hospital and replenish the inventory into consignment or some other inventory location. The surgical tech/nurse is capturing use to populate the ERP so that a purchase order is created and the device is also entered into the EHR to track what was used in the case.”

Empowering the surgical suite

The surgical suite is tailor-made for mobile tech, DeLuca emphasized, because the clinical hustle and bustle around the patient trumps the supporting processes.

“The medical device representative is likely already capturing use for their purposes on a mobile device,” he indicated. “And the surgical tech/nurse is typically in charge of doing other tasks during the procedure, not entering items into a computer. Scanning bar codes with a mobile device is not only more efficient, it is less prone to error. By capturing items on a mobile device and feeding that data to both a hospital ERP and EHR, measurable value can be created.”

John Freund

John Freund, CEO, Jump Technologies Inc., Eagan, MN, concurs that the procedural areas can reap considerable financial benefits from mobile tech use, particularly for supply support.

“Research has shown that as much as 30 percent of charges are not captured in procedural areas, largely due to items coming into the suites that are not in the item master,” Freund noted. “Using a standard iOS or Android device, a clinician can scan an item during a procedure. If that item is not found in the item master, the app can search for the item in a cloud-based source like the GS1 database. When found, the item can be added to the case without interruption to workflow. Data are automatically captured for key information, such as item number, manufacturer, lot number and expiration date. You can even use the camera on the mobile device to capture an image of the item. This makes it easier for staff to capture the appropriate costs and bill the patient properly, and then add the item to the chargemaster after the procedure. This improves charge capture accuracy and increases revenue in the largest revenue generating areas of the hospital.”

Mobile tech also can reduce the amount of time that clinicians spend trying to locate products they need, Freund continued.

“We have all seen the case studies that show where clinicians can spend as much as 20 percent of their day on supply chain-related activities, the most frustrating of which is trying to find the items they need,” he said. “Using mobile technology, nurses can simply scan the bar code for an item that has stocked out of a supply room. The mobile device will display all locations in the hospital or even in other hospitals within the system where that item exists and enable the nurse to execute a transfer of the item from one stocking location to another. Having this capability allows nurses to spend more time with patients and less time looking for supplies.”

The economic advantages of mobile tech are noteworthy from IT and operational standpoints, Freund emphasized.

“IOS and Android applications are much less expensive to deploy when looking at hardware, maintenance, and training costs,” he said. “Hardware pricing for mobile devices runs from as low as $300. Typical deployments with a rugged case and bar-code scanner run $800 per device. Standard mobile devices can be used for a variety of apps rather than separate hardware for individual functions. This cuts down on the number of devices in the facility, saving the hospital substantial money.”

Leveraging mobile device management (MDM) software applications can help reduce maintenance costs for mobile devices, too, Freund added.

“These tools allow IT to control what goes on the device and when an app or operating system gets updated,” he said. “They also make it easy to geo-locate missing devices and lock down devices that travel outside specific areas. All of this is done via the cloud. Compare this to the old days of having to bring in hand-held computers, dock them, and replace [Java Archive] files. Updates simply were not done to these devices due to the costs associated with installing the upgrade.”

But DeLuca cautions against leaping toward mobile tech before looking and laying out a plan of action.

“Mobile technology must be the result of a mobile strategy,” he said. “In other words, it must be purpose-driven and apply to specific use cases in order to be perceived as valuable. Think about the apps on your phone you use all the time, and the ones you used once and never again.”

Clinicians and administrators should feel comfortable using mobile tech for a variety of functions because applications should be familiar and user-friendly, according to Freund.

“Both iOS and Android enforce interface standards within apps,” he said, so basic navigation through an application looks and feels the same no matter what application a user has. Most people use smart phones today and have become used to navigating common consumer apps. Good inventory management solutions leverage common navigation rules so little training is required. This greatly reduces training and ongoing support costs.”



Big wins from small devices

Overcome any pains in the apps


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