To optimize patient throughput, minimize downtimes, and avoid inefficiencies, it has become indispensable for many large hospitals to keep track electronically of their medical equipment. The example of a 1,700-bed hospital in downtown Shanghai shows how digital fleet monitoring can ease workflow in everyday routine.
Photos: Tang Ting
Challenge: With around 10,000 outpatients per day, even brief breakdowns of medical equipment negatively affect the workflow in Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai, China.
Solution: In 2014, the hospital introduced a digital fleet management portal, LifeNet, which offers real-time data on equipment status via a web interface and the possibility to transmit failures electronically to the Siemens support desk.
Result: The radiology department of the hospital now has instantaneous feedback on equipment problems; the repair process is initiated more quickly. Eventually, the digital fleet management might improve the healthcare delivery process as a whole by reducing avoidable downtime and facilitating workflows as well as long-term planning for new equipment.
Ruijin Hospital in downtown Shanghai comprises 1,700 beds and has around 10,000 outpatients per day. Each of the hospital’s seven CT and five MRI scanners performs an average of 150 and 80 daily exams, respectively. If one of the systems fails even briefly, workflow slows down in the entire hospital, forcing patients to wait longer and employees to work overtime. For physicians at the Ruijin Hospital, it is vital to keep their systems up and running.
A Quick Reaction is Crucial
“The biggest challenge in my work is to know immediately when an imaging device breaks down. If this happens, we have to react quickly,” says Dr. Haipeng Dong, who is Deputy Director of the hospital’s radiology department. Since the hospital introduced a digital service management portal in 2014, his job has become a lot easier, however. The Siemens portal LifeNet now supports him in monitoring and maintaining the department’s medical equipment. Eventually, it could increase patient throughput as well as quality of care.
A Growing Trend
Globally, there has been a rising trend towards keeping track electronically of medical equipment performance, maintenance costs, and downtime. Computerized monitoring systems allow the production of service records with a few mouse clicks; they facilitate long-term investment planning. They even create a knowledge base, by automatically documenting what has been done to resolve a specific problem in an earlier case.1 Such systems make foresighted maintenance an easier task for radiologists and engineers, be it at a leading hospital in the U.S., a large hospital in Germany, or an important Chinese healthcare facility like Ruijin Hospital in Shanghai.
Dr. Dong grew up in Shanghai. When he started his career at the Ruijin Hospital in 1997 as an intern, there were hardly any imaging devices except a few X-ray systems, he says. The hospital has been developing rapidly over the last 20 years, and there is more expansion work underway to further enlarge the hospital complex. “There will also be two new CT and three MRI scanners,” says Dr. Dong. As he speaks in his office, phones are ringing. “That is normal,” he says. “I easily get a hundred calls a day.” Many of them revolve around technical issues.
Scanner Performance Metrics in Real Time
Dr. Dong and his colleagues have been performing bi-annual routine checks to identify potential problems early enough. However, the risk of system failure and downtime remained. In general, there are two sources of error: One concerns the software that controls the device; the other regards the hardware components themselves. Software errors are more common. “Before, in the case of failure, we had to first identify what the problem was, then call a technician by phone, and eventually hope that he would arrive soon,” says Dr. Dong. “This has changed.”
Indeed, the recently introduced fleet management portal, LifeNet, offers customized data almost in real time via a 24/7 web interface. The data comprises performance metrics and equipment status of all of the hospital’s imaging devices from Siemens Healthcare. In addition, the system electronically keeps track of maintenance schedules or repair histories. Dr. Dong points to a screen. “This green bar means that everything is okay,” he explains. “Yellow indicates which devices should be checked soon.” A red light stands for an error detection. With LifeNet, an equipment failure can be transmitted automatically to the support desk of Siemens. They send a technician who is already aware of the problem and has the necessary spare parts and tools with him. “This saves us valuable time,” says Dr. Dong.
Striving Towards Being a Smart Hospital
Connecting and monitoring medical devices might eventually lead to the “smart hospital”, allowing for intelligent automation of maintenance processes while liberating physicians from workflow disruptions and administrative work. One example is a software solution that can predict potential CT tube failures in certain current-generation scanners. The preemptive monitoring system works with built-in sensors, which proactively control tube functions via real-time data flow. The obvious advantage is that planned tube replacements can avoid unforeseen outages.
Dr. Dong considers digital monitoring a great help in his daily routine. One telling example is that previously he used to walk through the CT and MRI rooms in the multi-story hospital buildings every morning to verify the functioning of the devices. Now, he can check the status of the systems at a glance. What is more, the digital fleet management could eventually improve the healthcare delivery process as a whole, by reducing avoidable downtime and easing patient throughput. This would not only help optimize the use of equipment, but also increase satisfaction of medical staff and patients alike.