Tracking materials and supplies in any industry can be a challenge. But it’s especially complicated in health care, where inventory needs constantly fluctuate, inventory must be closely guarded and detailed tracking is required.
Below are four of the biggest hospital inventory management issues. These issues not only face hospitals, but other health care facilities as well.
- Complex Patient Needs
The Problem: Let’s face it, hospital inventory needs aren’t as cut and dry as, say, a hardware store. It’s rarely one-size-fits all, and you can’t settle for the closest match. Patient needs are complicated and very specific. That means hospitals must manage a universe of inventory and keep it orderly enough to effectively assist each patient.The Solution: Supply management systems are a common way to keep control of unruly and complex inventory needs. Many systems are automated and intuitive enough track inventories that span multiple facilities by keeping track of where items are, where they are most needed and how many are in stock.
- Volatile Demand
The Problem: Fluctuations in inventory are natural. In a hospital setting, they are even more pronounced. Contagious illnesses come and go, or any given day could see more of a need for emergency response. For that reason, hospitals often find themselves facing unexpected shortages in supplies, or a chaotic situation could prevent them from locating limited supplies on short notice.The Solution: The best way to respond to volatile demand is to minimize its impact to begin with. Inability to locate available supplies can make a problem significantly worse if you’re scrambling to meet a growing need for one item in particular. Know where your supplies are, and be sure everything is well labeled. Know where backup supplies can be found in the event of a shortage. It might not eliminate the strain of volatile demand entirely, but it will certainly help.
- Temperature- and Age-sensitive Items
The Problem: Certain medicines and chemicals have a limited shelf life. Others are prone to damage during changes in temperature. As a result, medical facilities face the challenge of protecting sensitive inventory and ensuring items are used in the right order to prevent expiration. Disorganized facilities can waste a lot of resources if they don’t properly track inventory.The Solution: The best way to reduce stockpiles, waste and expired products is to increase inventory visibility and labeling. All items should be logged in a detailed Supply Management System (some of which include remote temperature monitoring). All inventory should be physically labeled with the same information so that staff can spot any irregularities. Color-coded labeling can help the person retrieving items quickly identify its age, and similar markings can alert staff to temperature requirements so that inventory is not moved to a room that is too warm or cool.
The Problem: Security has long been an issue with hospital inventories. Drugs and chemicals can be stolen, or sensitive items can be tampered with. Both issues can pose significant safety and legal liabilities for a hospital.The Solution: Stock security systems can be a lifesaver when it comes to keeping your inventory safe from theft or tampering. This typically involves a series of security cameras, devices, inventory barcodes and a security guard to prevent unwanted access. Staff training is equally important. Staff should understand the risks of security breaches — whether it’s by them or on their watch — so that they can take the steps needed to stay vigilant. Similarly, staff should have only limited access to inventory. An inventory gatekeeper of sorts and a strict logging system can make it much easier to hold staff accountable.
About the author:
Don Amato is Vice-President, Sales of Chicago Tag & Label in Libertyville, IL. As manufacturers of forms, labels and tags, Chicago Tag & Label delivers solutions for all types of businesses, including healthcare and e-retail. Connect with Chicago Tag & Label on Linkedin.