- Inventory mismanagement at a Washington, D.C. VA Medical Center placed patients in unnecessary risk, prompting an official investigation and temporary removal of the chief administrator, Healthcare Finance reported last week.
- The Department of Veteran Affairs Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found soiled storage areas, staff shortages, and most critically, frequent supply shortages leading to delayed or canceled procedures.
- Among the root causes: a lack of an inventory management system, according to the report. There was likewise no system to ensure recalled products were not deployed for patient care. In addition, $150 million in equipment had not been accounted for at all.
An effective supply chain can make the difference between proper and improper care at a hospital.
While we can clearly see the results as reported above, there exist other recent surveys that reveal the toll skimping can take: Cardinal Health and SERMO reveal that 25% of respondent medical staff did not know if an inventory management system had ever been installed at their location, while frontline clinicians claimed to spend an average of 17% of their working hours on inventory management, a waste of clinician skill.
Although cost is generally considered to be the greatest obstacle to adopting better processes, the Cardinal/SERMO survey found automation could save hospitals over $500,000 while improving care. This would help ensure the safety of patients, while simultaneously tracking costs and preventing waste. RFID tags could be used to store product data, while other types of automated inventory management platforms could identify drugs and devices of frequent use and spot shortages ahead of time. Once this information becomes common throughout the hospital, costs can be driven down through lean practices like more targeted purchases and reduced excess stock.
The main issue, however, isn't money or processes. The need to align staff and decision makers toward an understanding of the value of a specialized supply chain team is the first step in recognizing how greatly help is needed. Frequently understaffed and underbudget, however, hospitals may have a hard time doing so. Yet recent examples show it may be a worthwhile investment, in terms of cost-savings and customer service.