Minimizing Patient Risk Through Automated Inventory Management

For those directly involved with patient care, supply management for patient procedures or risk assessment, how does your team effectively manage the inventory of implantable items that are about to expire? Or more importantly, the items that are already expired?

When we look at how the procedure areas in hospitals – ORs, Interventional Radiology, Cath Labs, EP Labs, etc. – manage their implantable supply inventory, we often see they manage high-cost implants and devices the same way as the rest of the general inventory in the hospital.  Most hospitals use traditional manual methods such as FIFO, where items that come in first are used first; or the ‘rotation method’ like that of a supermarket, where the last product received goes to the back of the shelf so that the item in front is the first to expire.  When we talk with the professionals of these areas they agree that the safety risk of a heart valve is far more critical than that of gauze, as an example.  Unfortunately, when we meet with potential clients, we still see quite often that teams follow the same manual process regardless of the patient risk.

The problem with these traditional methods is that they are dependent on human input.  We won’t argue that good process-oriented team members, strong discipline and tight controls can’t make these methods work 90% of the time.  In fact, we’ve seen many successful examples of this in smaller hospitals, or less hectic areas of larger hospitals.  But in high volume areas, managing large inventories with a high number of team members involved, we typically see successful tracking of expirations fall to 50% or even lower.   Regardless of whether the environment is large or small, good people with good intentions are not always ‘fault-proof’.  Life happens.  People end up on leave unexpectedly, good people have bad days.  However, when a person’s life is at stake the level of fault tolerance needs to be at a minimum.

Medical supply inventory management systems such as iRISupply from Mobile Aspects aim to minimize the dependency of patient safety on ‘good people with good intentions’.  Software solutions like these use RFID technology to automatically assign each implant or supply to the proper patient in the electronic medical record (EMR). Reports can be automated to notify the department’s inventory manager well in advance that an item is due to expire, and can also provide real-time alerts if an expired item is taken for use in a procedure. Much of the time that team members currently spend trying to keep up with all of their inventory duties can instead be spent on what they really joined your hospital to do – care for patients.

With solutions like these on the market today, is your department or hospital still trying to utilize staff member time to manage inventory and expirations, instead of spending that time on patient care?  What is your plan to ensure an item that is expired is not implanted into a patient?