Applying manufacturing process flow principles to medical environments

Applying manufacturing process flow principles to medical environments

When developing the technology to support the concepts and processes behind FloKi Health, we turned our attention to the manufacturing industries for inspiration.

For a long time, manufacturing industries have successfully implemented the technology and process flow principles necessary to maximise efficiency, through recognising outstanding constraints, such as time, resource and data. That’s what got us thinking: Can this process be applied to clinical support applications? Keep reading to learn how we’re doing just that.

Improving patient care

Patient care is always at the forefront of our minds. The FloKi technology was developed in response to a need for an efficient and scalable means of tracking, monitoring and managing the position and status of vital medical equipment in a hospital setting.

Back in 2009, research by the Nursing Times found that nurses were wasting ‘one hour per shift’ searching for medical devices. Although the publication is yet to carry out a follow-up study, we can only assume this is getting worse. Over the last ten years, NHS waiting lists have grown exponentially, with many Trusts missing the mark on vital A&E patient targets.

 In 2013, the government established NHS Digital, the national information and technology partner to the health and social care system. The organisation uses digital technology to transform the NHS and social care. From Artificial Intelligence (AI) to Internet of Things advancements (IoT), the NHS has adapted solutions from outside traditional healthcare strategies to deliver world-leading patient care.

Don’t spend more, spend smart

However, bringing new technology solutions into the NHS is easier said than done. It’s not just about spending more on these technologies but on smart spending. We can easily imagine a world where we increase spending in every ward, purchase critical necessary medical equipment and recruit the necessary staff to maintain and carry out compliance on all devices. But that’s not going to happen – and that’s where we can take learnings from the manufacturing industries.

In The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement Paperback, the author Eliyahu M. Goldratt discusses his first-hand experience as a plant manager facing factory closures. Goldratt leads conversations on the Theory of Constraints, whereby any manageable system is limited in achieving its goals by a small number of constraints. And that’s exactly what’s happening in the NHS.

“The capacity of the plant is equal to the capacity of its bottlenecks,” ― Eliyahu M. Goldratt, 

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

The problems

Throughout our experience working with Northumbria NHS Trust, we’ve spent many hours listening to the team discuss their perceived problems surrounding the management of medical equipment.

According to Goldratt, we must listen to those at the coalface to understand the depths of these constraints before developing solutions. Here are some of the ‘small number of constraints’ that are holding us back when it comes to delivering great patient care across the Trust:

  • “We never have the right assets.”
  •  “Someone is always hiding the equipment they need, so they have it when they need it.”
  •  “There’s a backlog of equipment requiring routine compliance, maintenance and repairs.”
  • “There’s a hospital-wide shortage of certain devices, but we lack the data to prove such requirements to the committee to get the budget necessary to buy more.”
  •  “We always need to justify any new solutions to a committee, with a business plan and limited quantifiable data. They want to know how it’s reasonable, justifiable and a good use of public money. I once counted 17 people at such a committee!

Work in Progress (WiP)

Medical devices are the equivalent of manufacturing WIP, the more you have, the slower they move and the more difficult it is to manage them. The effective management of medical devices decreases the challenge of device locating and maintenance. 

By knowing where they currently located or by improving the way they are reported means communication appears on a managed dashboard. Devices are measured automatically, with target return times and it’s clear to ‘facilities’ where they need to go to locate the devices.

Like WIP, the more you have in the system, the more capital that is tied up in the hospital process. By measuring in real time you can see the movement of such devices and over extended data collection periods develop theories that need less financial spend to find solutions. For instance, redeployment of devices, planning of critical equipment usage, less time looking for devices, less contract for maintenance to mention a few.

The solution

The saying goes: measure twice, cut once. 

Fortunately for us, we can measure all the time. Here at FloKi Health, we’ve developed the necessary technology to allow for data collection across the hospital. From here, we empower the Trust to make evidence-based decision making, from fact and not emotion.

The first stage of FloKi’s technology is a simple mobile app that supports the deployment of our digital platform within the hospital environment. Critical medical equipment is tagged with BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) emitters, which ping gateways positioned around the ward. Using the mobile app, ward staff can locate medical equipment, as well as flag devices for repair and routine compliance.

 Data from the app is available to the medical equipment team, who can allocate time and resource to the management of such devices.

Activity is monitored in real-time, and visible by hospital management on the FloKi Dashboard. Having access to such vital business intelligence provides the data needed to make evidence-based decisions on everything from recruitment to procurement and device maintenance. All of which, ultimately, has an insurmountable impact on patient care.

What’s next?

As a developer of cutting-edge technological solutions, we never rest easy. We’re always striving to deliver new answers to questions that arise from our work with Northumbria NHS Trust. That’s why we’ve developed technology with agility and scalability in mind, elements such as custom dashboards can be applied to other areas of the hospital’s facilities. 

The BLE technology we used to track devices, along with the mobile app and network of gateways, can be applied to a vast range of other problems the NHS is currently facing. We act as a leader of development in the UK’s mission to integrate the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) into the NHS and beyond.

Join us on our journey by following us on Twitter or get in touch today to find out how we can help improve patient care with the implementation of our state-of-the-art technology. Find us on