Classifying Automated Inventory Management Solutions for the Operating Room

Part 1: Tips to Evaluating Vendors

As overall adoption of barcode and RFID technology solutions in the Operating Room environment continues to expand, the market is beginning to feel cluttered with solutions promising extraordinary results.

Two Scenarios Faced When Selecting a Vendor

Unfortunately Hospitals are often left with a very difficult decision to make when evaluating and selecting clinical supply automation systems.  Lack of, or conflicting knowledge about pricing, expected ROI, actual vs expected end user workflow and system integration capabilities often leave hospitals with only two choices.

1.       Purchase equipment for the Operating Rooms from the organizations’ current supplier of storage/automation technology used in other departments throughout the hospital.

The Danger:  Many large suppliers’ core businesses and technologies were developed with workflows designed for the management of supplies in the pharmacy, high volume low value supplies or for calmer areas of the hospital outside of the hectic OR.

2.       Evaluate new vendors and potentially innovative technologies.

The Danger:  Working with a new vendor or teaching end users about new technology can be a walk on the wild side.  Make sure they are ISO 9001 certified, and more importantly speak with customer references about the suppliers implementation and training plans.

5 Tips for Evaluating Vendors

  • Research The Company, Past and Present – Many health care technology suppliers have been around for decades and have been able to leverage their large reach to provide an “in” into other departments.  Unfortunately the technology and workflows generally carry over to the “new product”, however it may not spell success in the Operating Room.
  • Allow the vendor to perform a walkthrough before requesting pricing – As tempting as it is to simply ask the vendor to send over pricing for a storage unit this will get you into trouble down the road.  The walkthrough will insure both the vendor and yourself can understand if the unit is a fit based on the layout and inventory to be tracked.
  • Workflow, Workflow, Workflow – Saying it a fourth time might be redundant but I cannot stress how important this is.  Barcodes, take/return buttons, open/closed shelving and RFID enabled solutions all produce different workflows for your nurses.  Evaluate the specific workflow of daily activities (stocking cabinet, intra-procedure item storage/removal, charge capture etc) of each system and understand that additional steps will result in poor performance.
  • Plan System Integrations Ahead of Time – Just about all modern day supply automation systems will require integrations with ADT, Materials Management and Billing systems to reach their full potential.  Ask the vendor about their integration capabilities during the “get to know you stage” and if planning on buying make sure to alert your IT staff with a road map and implementation schedule.
  • Ask For an On-Site Reference Visit – What better way understand how your staff will react than to see the systems live and speak with the very people who use it?