Tracking technology a boon for hospital bed management

In a six-week pilot of tracking technology conducted at Mount Sinai Medical Center earlier this year, the New York hospital cut wait times by more than an hour for roughly half of all incoming emergency room patients, according to BBC News.

The technology tested included algorithms that sifted through patient electronic health records to determine triage instructions from nurses, as well as radio-frequency identification tags for matching new patients with an appropriate bed. Nathan Proudlove, a senior lecturer in operational research at Manchester School of Business, told BBC News that in the absence of such tools, many hospitals instead are running what amounts to a "really chaotic and unsafe system."

Proudlove added that some hospitals "just don't know where patients are."

Research published in January in the journal BMC Medical Informatics & Decision Making found that computer-based decision support could be another tool that could benefit case and bed management efforts by hospitals. That study aimed to uncover the most efficient methods for determining hospital bed assignments, and involved a simulation of 226,000 cases.

Four strategies were examined: an exact approach, using a mixed integer programming solver; and three heuristic strategies looking into the longest expected processing time, the shortest expected processing time, and random choice. The latter was determined to be the "preferred method for bed assignment," although the researcher said that more research was needed on a larger scale.

"Bed capacity is a crucial but limited hospital resource," the study's authors wrote. 

Bed-management applications represent one of the hottest software markets, according to a HIMSS Analytics' report published in May. The report profiled 24 applications in five operational areas--general finance, financial decision support, human resources, supply chain management and revenue cycle management-- and rated their level of maturity in the market.

"As hospital administrators grapple with ways to maximize limited resources, bed management applications are a logical answer for many facilities looking at ways to improve the flow of inpatients throughout their facility," Lorren Pettit, vice president of research for HIMSS Analytics, said of the report.

To learn more:
- read the BBC News article