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Putting Hospital Efficiency on the Right Track

AgileTrac

AgileTrac is designed to help orchestrate all the resources needed for a person's hospital stay, assisting in eliminating these inefficiencies and, as a result, improving the patient’s overall quality of care. 

A patient’s journey within a hospital involves so many people, procedures and moving parts that, for many of us, it’s a wonder hospitals function at all. Adding to the complexity is that hospital units are run as independent entities — so the emergency department (ED), the operating room (OR), the wards, the pharmacy and the radiology department all have their own rules about how things get done. This vertical structure makes it exceedingly difficult to create processes that cut horizontally across all of them — and therefore difficult to ensure a smooth and efficient experience for patients.

“Even today, most hospitals have disparate systems and manual processes,” says Lee Kramer, product service leader for AgileTrac at GE Healthcare. “Some things get lost in translation from one system to the next. So AgileTrac is designed to help orchestrate all the resources needed for a person's hospital stay, assisting in eliminating these inefficiencies and, as a result, improving the patient’s overall quality of care.”

To illustrate the problem, Kramer tells the story of a woman who, about seven years ago, had to go to the emergency room. She was older, and of a generation that grew up learning not to complain. After being examined in the emergency department and admitted for an overnight stay, she had to wait for a room. For more than four hours, this frail, hundred-pound woman lay on a stainless steel gurney, aching and tired. She just wanted a bed to lie down in. The woman was Kramer’s grandmother. She was 88 years old at the time.

“I was working with patient flow and bed management software,” Kramer says, “and when she told me this story, I thought, if we can’t predict what kind of bed patients will need while they are being looked after in the ED, then something is really wrong. This is why I am so passionate about AgileTrac.”

Taking on the Challenge

The story of AgileTrac begins in 2002, when Fran Dirksmeier, now GE Healthcare’s general manager for global asset management, co-founded Agility Healthcare Solutions.  Dirksmeier and his business partner had a hypothesis that hospitals could get far more value out of their medical equipment if they were managed more effectively. Dirksmeier tapped into his network to conduct an informal study. He visited several hospitals to observe, firsthand, how they functioned.

“What we found was that inefficiencies in managing hospital equipment were rife, and hospitals had very little understanding of the optimal level of assets,” Dirksmeier says. “Our findings were so consistent — and the response to our ideas so positive — that we felt it was an opportunity to create an inventory management system that could really do some good,” Dirksmeier says.

What they created was the first iteration of AgileTrac, software that uses a real-time location system (RTLS) to continually “see” where hospital assets are.

The system helps address several pain points for hospitals. Fundamentally, hospitals have a problem with equipment latency.  Most pieces of equipment are in use only 30 to 40 percent of the time. Exacerbating the problem is that nurses are known to hoard scarce equipment — such as setting aside IV pumps to ensure they are available when they need them. When this happens, not only is the equipment unavailable to others, but it is less likely to follow a formal cleaning and maintenance schedule. AgileTrac gives nurses confidence that they can quickly locate equipment that is available for use — enabling them to spend less time coordinating care and more time delivering it.

AgileTrac software integrates deeply with the ADT (admissions, discharge and transfer) system, which is the “nerve center” of a hospital. In terms of hardware, AgileTrac can be deployed with any of several types of real-time location systems — Wi-Fi, radio frequency, ultrasound, infrared or even ultra-wide band — which can sense and identify equipment wherever it is. Today, GE Healthcare has one of the largest installed bases of RTLS-enabled systems, globally, in the field of hospital asset management.

Towards a Comprehensive Operations Platform for Hospitals

By the time they joined GE Healthcare in 2008, Dirksmeier’s Agility team had begun to consider how they could push AgileTrac beyond equipment management. They wanted to follow a similar approach with patients, by making the handoffs from department to department more transparent, visible and continuous. Today that goal has come to fruition, and AgileTrac is being used for patient flow in hospitals including Mount Sinai (New York), Oschner (Louisiana), Virtua (New Jersey), and others. 

The AgileTrac development team is continually responding to customers’ requests for new functionality. Following agile engineering practices, the team completes a new AgileTrac build every three weeks, incorporating ideas that have been rigorously vetted and designed. Based at GE Healthcare’s Richmond, Virginia, facility, the AgileTrac team comprises 28 software engineers as well as project architects, project managers, implementation support, quality assurance, technical writing and testing.

“Our customers are continually pushing us to do more,” Kramer says. “In the US, hospitals spend approximately $57 billion on outsourced services — not only in biomedical services but in food service, lab, radiology and so on. Think how much food is wasted when, for example, a hot meal is delivered to a patient’s room when they are in radiology, and it is left there to go cold. If we could extend food service into AgileTrac, this waste could be avoided.”

This rapid evolution of the product, and adoption by some of the world’s most advanced hospitals, is evidence that a real and immediate need is being met. The savings opportunity for hospitals is in the millions annually, according to Dirksmeier, with most customers seeing a return on their investment, remarkably, within the first year.

But the ultimate vision for AgileTrac is to be the enterprise operational platform for the hospital — integrating equipment management, bed management, OR scheduling and more into an overall patient flow strategy.

“All hospitals have a financial system and a clinical system, but what they don’t have is an integrated operational system,” Dirksmeier says. “With AgileTrac we are delivering a transformational strategy, and it takes an incredible level of effort and a high level of alignment to successfully undertake this change. Our experience in healthcare change management is an important differentiator. I’m proud to be part of one of the very few companies that can make a difference in the way healthcare is delivered — not many can do that.”