Tracking Ventilators to Help Save Lives

The LocatorX Team

April 22, 2020

April 22, 2020

Almost overnight, medical ventilators have become our most precious material resource.

It’s an unprecedented challenge for the medical supply chain, forcing outside manufacturers such as GM and Dyson to contribute their time and resources to the effort. As hospitals continue to overflow, ventilators are making all the difference for those who can access them. For those who cannot, or whose shipments are lost or damaged along the way, incoming COVID-19 patients may not receive the lifesaving care they need.

Google search volume for “ventilators” in March 2020. Source: Google Trends

Over the next several months, the production, delivery, and sharing of medical ventilators will be a top priority for all, from hospital staff to the thousands of manufacturers involved. Furthermore, the history and health of each ventilator will be of critical import when banking on them to keep patients alive. At LocatorX, we are proud to contribute to the cause with our advanced asset tracking and authentication technology.

Ventilator Location and Status

“Where are the ventilators?” This is the very last thing a hospital director should have to wonder right now, as they work tirelessly to house, diagnose, and treat thousands of new patients. The COVID crisis may be the most pertinent use case for real-time asset tracking in our lifetime, outside of military aid and operations.

As of now, standard retail for this equipment is out the window. Ventilators are being churned out of makeshift factory lines and temporary wings of enterprise factories (e.g. carmakers, aerospace firms), and shipped across the country or world with no room for error or delay. Some independent designers are even building unorthodox ventilators with their available materials. Anything helps, and though by all accounts we should have been better prepared, the crisis is bringing people together like few events in history.

(Read from BBC: What are ventilators and why are they important?)

In his daily press briefing on April 4, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo explained how the state of Oregon was sending 140 of their ventilators to New York to help fill the swelling demand. Cuomo stated that, when the time was right, the state would send the ventilators back to Oregon or to wherever they were most needed.

This ongoing exchange of ventilators between states will be a major storyline to follow for the next several months of the COVID crisis, along with the full-steam production and shipment of new machines. Until our supply matches our demand across the board, these devices will be a currency of sorts that are passed around the country each day. As such, tracking their location and active status will be a key measure of the crisis response, on par with hospital staffing and patient care.

Device History and Performance Data

Medical professionals must not only procure and track thousands of ventilators, surgical masks, and other materials, but also ensure their quality and authenticity upon arrival. If a ventilator was potentially tampered with, or its delivery is disrupted in any way, hospital teams need to know so they can adjust accordingly. Moreover, those involved at every touchpoint require details about the current health and efficacy of these costly, complex assets — before planning to hinge a patient’s life on whether one works as intended.

The insights provided by LocatorX extend well beyond asset location. If a machine failed at some point and needed repairs, or displayed any “exceptions” in its overall performance, that’s data worth knowing among hospital workers, operators, and anyone else in the supply chain. Details such as these are not only paramount when ordering and receiving ventilators, but when considering potential suppliers. If devices sent from a certain company fail 40% of the time, for instance, you should know this before asking them for help over other providers.

LXConnect, the latest solution from LocatorX, provides asset stakeholders with context-specific insights for any asset affixed with our unique barcode technology. Data can include change of ownership details and location logs as well as historical records of any and all issues, or as we call it, “exception reporting.” Even before the COVID pandemic, we strived to provide customers with this comprehensive, timely information about their shippable assets. Today, we’re confident that this approach can help address the crisis and prevent a new crisis from forming as it relates to ventilator distribution and operation.

Device Accountability and the FDA

Hundreds of thousands of COVID cases have been confirmed in the US, and numbers will climb higher and higher. The FDA, CDC, and other agencies will be closely involved in oversight of the recovery effort, including ventilator usage and performance.

(Read: FDA Enforcement Policy for Ventilators)

Any reportability of device failures and exceptions for these agencies will go a long way in inevitable congressional hearings, where individuals or businesses may be held accountable for loss of life or related negligence. For example, if someone knowingly sold a malfunctioning ventilator to a hospital, reported device data will be valuable evidence for families of those affected when seeking justice.

LocatorX solutions will assist in the capture and filing of this data, so that these practices can be properly enforced across the board. We’re proud to have shared this information with the FDA and U.S. Congress, and to be of service on the long road ahead.

In addition to our existing solutions, LocatorX is also working to establish a National Medical Device Registry that hosts identifying information and other details for every machine across the country. Using this registry, hospitals can instantly see the extent of ventilators and other assets that may be available for loan, streamlining the exchange process and saving precious time away from patient care. This information will not only help doctors and nurses in the moment — showing which devices are in use, have encountered issues, and so on — but be a go-to resource for the FDA both during and after the crisis.

(Read full details about the National Medical Device Registry)

Counterfeiting and the Grey Market

Product counterfeiting is a wide-scale threat for businesses and consumers alike. Damages caused by counterfeit goods will reach an estimated $4.2 trillion by 2022; this does not factor in the health-related issues caused by counterfeit drugs, alcohol, food, and other products. While the current global emergency is a unifying force for many of us, counterfeiters and others may view it as a golden opportunity to cash in at the expense of others.

The healthcare industry has been a focus of LocatorX since the beginning. Our solutions can be used to bolster pharmaceutical traceability efforts, ensuring that the right medication makes it to those that need it most without risk of counterfeiting or mishandling. During this crisis we want to provide the same piece of mind when it comes to ventilators and other essential medical assets, such as personal protective equipment or PPE (ex. N95 masks).

With each critical and unpredictable new day, hospital directors can utilize our tools to know how far deliveries are and any relevant details about their handling, while being able to authenticate their legitimacy the moment they arrive.

As stated earlier, these desperate times are forcing the hand of many hospitals to seek ventilators and PPE from third parties, due to mass shortages from trusted manufacturers. A great deal of sellers are buying in bulk from original manufacturers and reselling at an upcharge. These “grey market” goods present a number of ethical questions, like those hoarding toilet paper and selling it to neighbors in need. Grey market distribution can also lend to mistrust and concern among buyers that their products are legit or working properly.

Provenance matters, particularly with life-saving medical supplies. Our Product Certificate Authority helps original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) guide products into the hands of actual customers, rather than be hoarded for resale or diverted en route to their final destination. The grey market will inevitably persist during this crisis, alongside the counterfeit market; our goal is to mitigate as much as possible, eliminating risk and uncertainty for OEMs and their customers.

Life Beyond the Crisis

There are countless lessons to be learned once the dust settles, and some inevitable, immediate shifts in thinking to be made in our health care industry. For instance, hospitals will be forced to overstock their supplies in a long-overdue response to federal warnings, while manufacturing of essential assets like ventilators may move closer to the countries and states ordering them (i.e. reshoring).

In the meantime, the crisis at hand requires an outsized effort to adapt and prevail.

As the news has made clear, it’s nothing short of a life-or-death matter and may continue to be for some time. Our line of tracking and authentication solutions can be an integral piece of the puzzle for those on both ends of the chain, helping to manage ventilators and PPE once they are produced and track them on the way to their final destination. They can also help to monitor asset location within hospitals themselves, optimizing patient care and minimizing stress for medical staff.

“Our brand promise is ‘changing the way you trust, track, and find the most important things in your life,’” says LocatorX President Scott Fletcher. “As we’re seeing today, tracking and trusting these medical devices can help save lives as well. We’re working to give hospitals and their suppliers peace of mind across the entire supply chain.”

A silver lining to this global emergency is that it’s forcing us to think as a team, open our minds, and work together toward a safer future. Macro improvements to health care operations and manufacturing are guaranteed, and are already underway.

At LocatorX, we’re excited to get our tracking and authentication solution in the hands of hospital and device manufacturing teams, so they can save more lives and be best prepared for whatever the future holds. We’re stronger together, and we’ll come out on the other side of this more unified than ever.

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