Could IoT bed tracking help the NHS to tackle some of its biggest operational challenges?


The total number of NHS hospital beds in England, including general and acute, mental illness, learning disability, maternity and day-only beds, has more than halved over the past 30 years, from around 299,000 to 142,000, while the number of patients treated has increased significantly.

It therefore comes as no surprise that current bed occupancy rates in most NHS hospitals is consistently at 95% and above. It’s clear then that the ability to understand the location of every medical bed and their associated mattresses is becoming a necessity.

Due to advances in medical equipment, the cost per bed has risen by 90% in the last 15 years. But it’s not just beds that are expensive medical assets – from ECG machines and blood pressure monitors to defibrillator and wheelchairs, staff are constantly moving expensive and critical equipment around the hospital which quickly leads to assets being misplaced or left in disuse. As a result of this, estimates indicate that hospitals will purchase 25% more equipment than actually required for operational needs.

Recently a UK healthcare trust has to replace 150 mattresses that went missing. But it’s not a problem exclusive to UK hospitals. One major hospital in the US took a huge financial hit, simply because they were “unable to locate” 383 assets which equated to more than $11m.

Thankfully, there is a solution. Sensors can be attached to beds and other medical equipment enabling real-time data to be transferred via a low-power IoT network. These sensors can share location and maintenance information through a dashboard monitored by NHS personnel, allowing them to easily locate assets as well as being able to quickly access their maintenance records as they move around the facility.

While saving costs may be a key driver for NHS to adopt asset tracking, it certainly isn’t the only benefit. Let’s take a look at how IoT asset tracking can tackle some of the NHS' most pressing challenges:

Improve infection control

For audit or traceability purposes, it is vital hospitals capture and hold the history of all interactions with the bed and mattress including its maintenance, service and cleaning history. This is also crucial because it’s estimated that 9% of patients will suffer a healthcare acquired infection, although 30% will be considered avoidable. Every Healthcare Professional understands the significant negative impact this can have on both the patient and length of stay. But currently it is impossible to trace the source of infections and therefore the eradication of an outbreak can take days or weeks. But with an effective IoT asset tracking solution, hospitals are able to prevent the spread of infection before it occurs and if an infection doesn’t occur, they can quickly identify the source to prevent further spread.

 Improve utilisation

With acute bed shortages in most NHS Trusts, making maximum use of existing beds has to be a key priority. IoT sensors can support any bed management system as it provides a level of visibility which is impossible to achieve with any manual systems. It can help identify bottlenecks, e.g. where beds have been waiting too long for repairs or cleaning and are therefore unavailable.

Quickly Identify specialist beds

Looking for a specialist bed on a large hospital campus can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. With often only a handful of bariatric, ultra-low or spinal beds available, in some situations patients have to temporarily be put into less suitable beds, which can tie up staff resources unnecessarily or negatively affect patient comfort or even safety.

For example, if a standard bed has to be used instead of an ultra-low bed, 24/7 supervision of the patient is required, wasting valuable nursing or HCA time. If the patient is not mobile it may also mean unnecessary hoisting which is both inconvenient and potentially damaging for the patient as well as time consuming for nursing staff. Using the wrong bed can also lead to equipment damage, for example where a bariatric patient is placed in a normal bed which is not designed to support their weight.

Collect quality data to support strategic decision making

The data gathered by tracking beds supports cost-effective and evidence-based strategic decisions. This can include deciding whether existing assets should be maintained or retired based on their maintenance history. Good quality utilisation data can also help with forecasting expected demands to support a convincing case for replacement funding or help prioritise actions such as repairs to ensure sufficient suitable beds are available for patient care.

As hospitals are placed under strain from ageing populations, chronic diseases and straitened health budgets, the efficiencies provided by smart, connected devices are going to drive real cost efficiencies and savings in clinical contexts. And with an estimated 161 million IoT devices set to be installed within healthcare contexts by 2020, it’s only a matter a time.

To find out more about how the IoT is transforming patient care, click here.


Posted by Helen Thomas