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Take Control of Your Data: Standardize Asset Descriptions
As we continue our blog series on maintaining a healthy asset ledger, we now look at developing a standardized nomenclature for describing assets. This is all about keeping the information in your ledger consistent and maximizing your ability to search, sort, and filter your data.
As explained by example in our first post in the series, the exact same equipment could be acquired by your facility at different times and, without a standardized nomenclature, could be entered into the asset ledger a number of different ways. Again, this could be problematic when trying to locate an asset on the ledger that needs to be retired or when otherwise trying to make use of the data within your ledger. In the case of a retirement, if you have twelve assets described three different ways, that complicates locating the correct asset on the ledger that corresponds with the exact asset being retired. Moreover, if you have a single type of asset described several different ways throughout your ledger, you will need to perform multiple searches or apply several different filters in order to make the most use of your data. However, if your assets are entered into the ledger according to a standardized nomenclature, your data will be consistent and thereby much easier to manipulate for any tasks you need to accomplish.
To take control of your data, start with developing a standardized nomenclature for describing your assets. Create a file – a spreadsheet is recommended for ease of sorting and filtering – in which to make a list of asset descriptions. As you start listing all the different types of assets, you’ll want to keep these points in mind:
You will notice there are several kinds of items within the same basic category. For example, there are chemistry analyzers, microbiology analyzers, and hematology analyzers, to name a few types of assets that fall into the ‘analyzer’ category.
It is our recommendation that you describe each of those by beginning with the category (in this case ‘analyzer’) and continuing with the specific type (so one might be ‘analyzer chemistry’).
You will need to decide whether or not to include punctuation between the main category and the specific type, such as a comma, colon, or dash, and be sure to continue with that format as you address the rest of your descriptions. (For the chemistry analyzer example, you may choose to use no punctuation as shown above, or to enter it as ‘analyzer – chemistry’ or ‘analyzer: chemistry’ or even ‘analyzer, chemistry’ – you can see how your list will be more consistent if you standardize the type of punctuation as well.)
You may be able to start your list by referencing your asset ledger, but if you’re not too familiar with all the kinds of medical equipment or whether the variations of descriptions on your ledger are referring to the same or different things, it’s time to bring in the experts.
If you can get them to spare some time, your department managers or directors may be able to shed some light on all the different assets used in their area, and you can work with them to get their information into the format you’ve decided on for the standardized descriptions.
If that isn’t an option or you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, consult some industry published information. For example, the American Hospital Association’s Estimated Useful Lives of Depreciable Hospital Assets can be a great reference because it contains information on hundreds of types of assets.
Finally, you could outsource the creation of a standardized nomenclature to an experienced company like Partners Healthcare Group that is very familiar with the wide range of asset types commonly found within the healthcare industry.
Change is inevitable, so always the better to prepare for it. Where your standardized nomenclature is concerned, you will at some point be faced with the need to revise a description or add a new description for an item previously not included in your list (as technology advances, this is sure to happen).
Designate ownership of the standardized nomenclature. Whether it is a single person or a select few (keep that to an odd number if possible, so disputes can be resolved via vote), ensure that everyone is aware of who has the authority to review and approve or reject requests to update the standardized descriptions. This will help ensure continued uniformity of the standardized list. Additionally, the responsible party/parties can be consulted if there is confusion as to which description should be used for a particular asset if it is immediately unclear.
Establish within your policy and procedures that all assets added to the ledger must follow the standardized nomenclature. When new acquisitions are reported from Receiving, ensure that the information entered into the ledger follows the proper standardized description for each asset. This will establish consistency of data within your ledger going forward. As for the assets already listed in your ledger, it may be possible to correct some descriptions according to the nomenclature; however, the most efficient way to clean up your ledger will be to have a comprehensive Asset Inventory and Reconciliation performed. Check back soon for our next post in this series which will focus on the importance of the Inventory and Tagging process.