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Ensuring Clinical Equipment Is Ready for COVID-19

By JT Surgener, Regional Vice President Clinical Technology Management

For many hospitals, January 20, 2020 seemed like an ordinary day. But for a medical clinic in Snohomish County, WA, they were in the midst of confirming the first case of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus) in the US.

In the following months, it became clear that the US hospital system would never be the same.

On March 30, 2020, there were 140,904 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the US, including all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. Hospitals are working tirelessly to prepare for an unprecedented influx of patients, yet the virus continuously threatens to overwhelm US hospitals.

The preparation needed for a surge in patients during an outbreak is extensive. From leveraging telehealth services to altering triage procedures to setting up drive-through appointments, hospitals are moving quickly to adapt to the needs of patients during the coronavirus pandemic.

Another important but sometimes overlooked factor in ensuring hospitals are ready for an influx of patients boils down to clinical equipment management.

By methodically establishing clinical equipment is in working order and available for use during the COVID-19 outbreak, hospitals can promote efficiency in patient care. However, if they gloss over this critical step, hospitals put patient lives on the line.

The Critical Role of Clinical Equipment Management During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Clinical equipment is always integral to providing care, whether it’s an IV pump, a CT scanner, or the ever-important ventilator. Everyday, this equipment allows clinicians to diagnose, treat, and manage medical conditions.

During a pandemic, effectively managed clinical equipment allows clinicians to care for patients quickly — without life-threatening delays caused by broken or missing equipment. What’s more, it ensures that the equipment is reliable, clean, and safe to use.

Ensuring Clinical Equipment Is Available

Many healthcare facilities are setting up pop-up clinics, drive-through testing, and other off-site medical services, as well as reopening unused units, in response to COVID-19 patients filling up their rooms.

Hospitals are working day in and day out to amp up their efficiency. This requires careful organization to ensure medical equipment is in the right place when medical professionals need it.

Without the pressure of a pandemic and constant fluctuations in procedures, over one-third of nurses spend at least an hour searching for medical equipment. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and this wasted time is sure to increase — unless equipment is properly managed.

Ensuring Clinical Equipment Is Functioning

Clinicians also need to have confidence that equipment will be ready to use and fully functioning. Broken equipment is inhibitive to care — and it puts the patient in jeopardy, especially during a pandemic.

Consider the ventilator shortage, for instance. In New York, they have about 7,000 available, when they need an additional 30,000. These machines are invaluable in caring for COVID-19 patients and since there is already a shortage, hospitals cannot afford to even have one ventilator out of commission. If just one is broken due to being poorly managed, it can cost a patient their life — a life that could have potentially been saved.

Ensuring Clinical Equipment Is Properly Cleaned

Clinical equipment also comes with stringent cleaning procedures that are critical in preventing infection. One recent study found that the novel coronavirus can survive up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel, both of which are commonly found in clinical equipment.

Without proper cleaning of equipment, patients may seek care for COVID-19 — and end up with a healthcare-associated infection.

Clinical engineering professionals help those who clean equipment understand which disinfectants can and should be used, how to clean equipment effectively, and how to avoid damaging the equipment during the cleaning process.

Clinical equipment may not be the obvious star of the show during a pandemic. However, it is certainly a critical component that allows clinicians to do their jobs effectively, efficiently, and safely while caring for patients affected by COVID-19.

Protecting Electronic Health Records During an Outbreak

More patients means more patient data, and much of that data is stored on clinical equipment. As patients seek out hospitals for COVID-19 testing and care, their personal information and medical records follow — and they expect it to remain safe.

Though the US Department of Health and Human Services has recognized the additional challenges on healthcare providers during the COVID-19 outbreak by issuing a limited waiver on HIPAA sanctions and penalties, criminals don’t stop stealing patient information during a pandemic. Unfortunately, they may actually increase their efforts and take advantage of vulnerabilities during an outbreak.

Cyber Attack Activity During the COVID-19 Crisis

During the first 2 months of the coronavirus outbreak, cyber attacks increased by 150% in the healthcare sector.

Source: Verdict Medical Devices

 

A patient data breach at any time would potentially expose protected data. Roughly 66% of healthcare data breaches expose sensitive patient information, such as Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers — all of which put patients at risk for identity theft.

However, possibly the most serious impact of a data breach during an outbreak is its ability to halt the operation of hospitals when they’re needed most.

While hospitals around the country are approaching capacity, a data breach could cause them to turn patients away entirely. Not only would this threaten the lives of patients, it would also put unnecessary pressure on an already strained system.

On a normal day, hospitals cannot afford the negative impact of a patient data breach. They must rely on proper clinical equipment management — including frequent monitoring and updates — to avoid a breach. And during a pandemic, this management becomes even more critical.

Ensuring Clinical Equipment Management is Up to Par During a Pandemic

Every year, managing clinical equipment increases in complexity. As equipment becomes more sophisticated and specialized, trained clinical engineers become the backbone of equipment maintenance.

Medical equipment management programs have been enhancing hospital efficiency for more than 30 years. While they previously adhered to a philosophy of fixing equipment as it breaks, they are now time-based, predictive, condition-based, and evidence-based. They also keep track of equipment inventory to ensure the right equipment is available when needed.

In short, an effective clinical equipment management program can be a game changer for a hospital. Improving clinical equipment productivity requires analyzing a hospital’s equipment management program to determine where time is wasted and when equipment fails the most frequently.

In order to do this, clinical equipment management teams must perform frequent and thorough inventory checks including factors such as:

  • Manufacturer and asset number
  • Function
  • Availability of alternative equipment
  • Failure frequency, cause, and consequence
  • Downtime and repair cost
  • Type of maintenance (such as preventative or corrective)
  • Number of use errors

This list is not exhaustive — the amount of data collected to ensure clinical equipment is ready for anything, including the COVID-19 outbreak, is extensive.

However, the payoff is significant, especially when it comes to managing the extraordinary surge of COVID-19 patients. Proper clinical equipment management saves money, improves efficiency, and most importantly, prepares a facility to care for every patient in need of medical care.

Do you have questions about preparing your clinical equipment for the influx of COVID-19 patients? Learn more about Sodexo Clinical Engineering.

April 24, 2020

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