Asset management in healthcare has undergone significant change in recent years and looks set to face even greater change over the next few years. Healthcare has always been capital asset intensive, but a combination of factors is forcing the sector to rethink how they manage those assets in an increasingly unpredictable landscape.
Here we look at some of the main drivers of change and their impact on asset management approaches.
Increasing total spend
Over the last thirty years, expenditure on healthcare in the UK has more than doubled as a percentage of GDP from 5.1% in 1980 to 12% in 2020. This figure will only likely increase with an ageing population and the global COVID pandemic.
Property investment has been especially strong in the private sector, with private healthcare providers such as the Priory Group, Elysium Healthcare and Keys Group all involved with high-profile property deals in recent years. According to the GMB, there were at least 570 private hospitals in the UK as far back as 2020, and this number has only increased since then.
Increased investment has meant increased demand for specialist Facilities Management and Asset Management systems, but also for a broader range of solutions to cater for smaller providers as well as larger NHS hospitals, often included under an Integrated Care Board (ICB) umbrella (previously CCGs).
Moving to mobile assets
Despite increasing investment in healthcare, there has actually been a significant drop in the number of hospital beds in the UK, with approximately half as many NHS beds in 2021 as there were in 1987. Over the same period, the number of day beds increased by over 500%.
This shift represents a changing emphasis on providing healthcare in the community rather than via in-patient facilities. Delivering care in the community means that assets and equipment have become much more mobile, requiring a different approach to tracking them.
Instead of a traditional facilities-based approach where static assets seldom move, mobile assets move between sites, are assigned to users in the field and may need replenishment of consumable stock.
The transition to more cloud-based SaaS systems that can be accessed remotely and the flexibility to track and manage assets in the field using mobile devices will become increasingly essential for healthcare providers moving forward.
In early 2019, the NHS published its Digital Transformation plan setting out a roadmap for technological investment over the next decade. The program aims to draw together the vast myriad of data sources across the NHS to ensure that information and resources are available when and where they are needed.
Replacing paper-based or legacy software systems has become a key priority for NHS Estates and Facilities teams as well as Finance teams. Whereas different departments may each have maintained their own asset tracking system in the past, Digital Transformation has opened the door for a more integrated approach to asset management. An integrated asset management approach leverages a centralized asset register to reduce data duplication, enhance reporting and improve efficiency.
Cloud services provide many advantages for healthcare providers, including a reduction in the time to deploy infrastructure and a significant decrease in emissions. The NHS has a stated goal of using public cloud-hosted solutions unless there is a good reason not to, such as cyber security concerns.
Asset management systems do not typically handle patient data or other sensitive personal information that clinical systems process but are still accessed over the same networks and devices as more sensitive systems. As such, they will be subject to many of the same security requirements.
Asset management software providers have had to invest heavily in cyber security to meet the requirements of the healthcare sector, with security becoming as important as functionality in many cases.
With the move to public cloud solutions and an increasingly global software market, data processing locations are also a major consideration. Although no longer part of the EU, the UK still maintains compliance with the GDPR. Many healthcare providers will require local hosting options to ensure no data is passed outside the UK.
Conducting due diligence on new systems is time-consuming. Purchasing frameworks and established partnerships, such as the FMIS partnership with NHS Shared Business Solutions3, can provide buyers with access to a pre-qualified list of suitable suppliers.
A more flexible future
Persistent and disruptive change looks set to be a feature of the asset management landscape in healthcare for the foreseeable future (as with many sectors). Processes and systems must adapt fast to stay relevant and fit for purpose. Although a lot of the focus will be on suppliers’ ability to adapt to the changing demands of the sector, the whole healthcare sector will require a much more collaborative and holistic approach to asset management in order to successfully deploy the systems required to meet their changing needs.