Utilizing computer hardware and Internet services, hospital tracks location of wheelchairs to minimize search time and maximize on-demand patient expectations.
The volunteer services department of California-based Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara has the responsibility of budgeting, purchasing, maintaining and providing transport chairs to Kaiser Permanente members during their visits to the Santa Clara Medical Center. Transport chairs are available at five widely separated entryway lobbies and other locations, such as the emergency and valet parking areas, which are located in the hospital and adjoining medical office building. Distribution of chairs over a facility measuring 1.5 million square feet – equivalent to 12 football fields – presents a management challenge to assure chair availability.
“Since the 72 transport chairs were in continuous demand, there were occasions when a chair was unavailable at certain locations,” says James Vaughn, content manager for Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center’s volunteer services department Web site. “In those cases, volunteers needed to search or phone the other locations where chairs might be found. Valuable patient time was wasted while chairs were located and retrieved.”
Vaughn sought a method to easily, quickly and inexpensively track the chairs.
According to Vaughn, there are several commercial, automated systems employing RTLS, RFID and transponder-detection methods, which require a relatively high initial cost of infrastructure development for asset tracking. The initial cost of installing readers and the infrastructure usually limits hospitals to do it in a confined area, like the emergency department or the operating room. Some large hospitals use these asset-tracking methods for their durable medical equipment, including crash carts, gurneys, IV pumps and other pieces of portable clinical equipment, for which hospital staff routinely spends time hunting.
“This was clearly not a solution for the volunteer services department to track transport chairs,” Vaughn says.
Since each of the entryway lobbies is staffed by volunteers at an information desk with intranet- and Internet-linked computers, a method was designed so that volunteers could report and view chair counts easily and quickly throughout the day via the information desk computers. Form data, submitted by the volunteers, was collected in an Internet-linked spreadsheet, automatically time-stamped, updated every five minutes, and reported in graphic format. Chair count data was accumulated over a two-month period and used for statistical analysis.
“Volunteers were trained quickly,” Vaughn says. “The Internet-enabled system was simple and easy to use.”
Chair counts were plotted hourly each day at several locations. Average daily chair usage was determined and “zero” counts were calculated to determine the extent that chairs were unavailable on request. Volunteers reported “zero” chair counts 17 percent of the time.
“Since it is almost impossible to count all of the chairs all of the time because this method relies on volunteer data input, a derivative analytical method was used to calculate chair turnover,” Vaughn states. “At the start of each day, the beginning chair count was established as a baseline.”
At each subsequent chair count, the number of chairs either increased or decreased from the initial baseline count. The sums of positive and negative counts were used to plot the “ebb and flow” of chairs, hour by hour, throughout the day. Over a two-month period, there were 12 percent more negative chair counts than positive chair counts, which indicated that more chairs were going out than being returned.
The study calculated the supply-and-demand turnover of wheelchairs at several locations throughout the medical center. An Internet-based spreadsheet displayed the numbers of chairs at each location every hour, and wheelchair inventory is now checked in a matter of minutes each day. By using this system, the total wheelchair transport time (from locating and retrieving the wheelchair to transporting the patient) was reduced significantly, according to Vaughn. From the statistical data collected, 10 additional transport chairs were purchased to meet the needs of the patients.
“Department budgets encourage the most-effective use of limited assets, particularly during stressful economic periods,” Vaughn says. “This study demonstrated that continuous tracking of costly transport chairs can facilitate better service to Kaiser Permanente members at Santa Clara. The results also anticipate and support a continuous electronic-tracking method, which may be employed by the medical center in the future.”
According to Dawn Thompson, director of volunteer services, “Knowing where wheelchairs are located throughout the day ensures effective work-flow and resource management. Now, our volunteers have more time to assist our members.”
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