Managing Ventilators More Efficiently

By Mark Roberti

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, these machines have become a vital resource for saving lives. Are we using them as efficiently as possible?

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It has become clear, at least here in the United States, that hospitals in areas hit hard by the coronavirus do not have enough ventilators. What’s less clear is that we are not using the ones we have efficiently. And there are a great many other medical resources that are desperately needed which are not being managed efficiently either.

We have very little visibility into what ventilators are available, where they are located and whether they are being used. Some hospitals have tagged assets, including ventilator machines, with active RFID transponders or ultrasound devices that can indicate where assets are within a hospital. This gives them visibility into ventilators’ locations and whether or not they are being utilized—if a device is in a storage room, a hospital knows it is not being used.

If we had real-time visibility into the location of every ventilator across the country, we could employ an artificial-intelligence system, such as IBM’s Watson, to track the trajectory of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) cases in localities throughout the country. The system could then look at where ventilators are still available due to those spots not being hit hard, and recommend where they should be shipped.

Such a system would allow us to maximize the use of ventilators where they are most needed. As the pandemic peaked and receded in any given area, the system could recommend areas to ship ventilators where the trajectory was still on an upward path. Even if we could use every ventilator to the highest utilization rate possible, we still might not have enough units. But we’d need to produce far fewer new devices than we would if we took a hodgepodge approach to managing their use, which is currently the case.

Mechanical Lung ventilation in intensive care unit

It’s my great hope that after this pandemic subsides—and it will—governments around the world will look at how they responded to the current crisis and consider what they could do better. One thing I hope they will look into is creating a national database for ventilators and other critical assets.

Perhaps governments will fund the tagging of these assets and create a national registry so that if there is another pandemic—and let’s all pray there isn’t—we can have real-time visibility into every device’s location and manage the units as efficiently as possible. If we were able to do that, it would be cost-efficient and reduce the number of deaths.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.