Versatile inventory management can open the door for future growth
The central mission of cardiovascular departments is providing high-quality patient care. From an inventory management perspective, this implies at least two things: that the right products are available when they are needed and that expired and recalled products are not used on patients. Now more than ever, cardiovascular departments are under pressure to control costs and to do so in a way that does not jeopardize patient care.

Fortunately, a variety of inventory control solutions exist that can dramatically cut inventory costs and—at the same time—improve the overall level of patient care by eliminating or sharply reducing stockouts, expirations and the use of recalled items.  

  • The first step in choosing the right solution is for the clinical manager to clearly define the highest priority goals. Some of the most common inventory management goals are:

    --Appropriate Reordering: Labs need to ensure that appropriate products get replenished at the right time. Most labs rely on clinical documentation, or they simply “eyeball” the shelves to see what is running low.
  • --Expiration Tracking: Clinical managers must ensure that all stocked products are within their shelf life. Expired products create compliance liabilities and patient safety risks, as well as costing thousands of dollars every year in wasted product.
  • --Recall Management: Clinical managers are responsible for tracking recalled products and must document the steps taken to dispose of any such discovered product. Clinicians may also be responsible for finding and contacting patients who have received recalled products.

  • Purchasing too many products or buying an inappropriate mix of products ties up significant funds in unnecessary inventory. Inventory needs are dynamic—products and technologies change, physicians develop new preferences, and procedure techniques evolve. It is therefore extremely helpful to be able to track overall consumption trends, changes in physician product utilization and product stockouts and stagnation.

    In addition to tracking product consumption, managers need to be able to track products removed from inventory for reasons other than patient use: borrowed by other units, departments or hospitals, or returned to the manufacturer due to expiration or defect. In particular, managers should be able to confirm that all products are credited to the appropriate cost center.

    Managers work with manufacturers to ensure that consigned supplies are available in appropriate quantities and configurations, but the burden of tracking expirations typically falls on the department. Having real-time information on consigned item inventories and upcoming expirations makes this task much easier.

    Choose carefully

    Clinical managers must balance physician preferences with budgetary constraints and cost-cutting requirements. Having real-time inventory and consumption data for individual physicians enables managers to view, analyze, compare and present actual utilization data when discussing product preferences with their physicians.

    Faced with inventory management needs, most cardiovascular departments try to do the best they can with the systems they currently have in place; namely, procurement/supply chain systems or hemodynamic systems. But these are not designed for providing comprehensive inventory management and cost-cutting features.
    Procurement/supply chain systems are typically part of a hospital-wide IT system and are used to centralize and sometimes standardize order management across a hospital. While procurement systems relay information about what orders have arrived, they don’t report what is actually on the shelves. Managers are unable to check for expirations, identify recalls, track borrowed products or manage consigned inventory.

    Hemodynamic systems document clinical data on procedures, including the products used. The department can builds and maintain a database of product types, but staff still have to ensure that the right product is selected and documented when used during a procedure. Administrators can track consumption, but cannot keep track of inventory on the shelves, check for expirations, identify recalls, track borrowed products or manage consigned inventory.

    When reviewing your lab’s inventory needs, it’s important to consider several aspects including ease of use, which can help determine training time and compliance; reporting features such as basic (par levels) or more advanced (physician utilization) tools; inventory monitoring components such as real-time data from receipt to exit; and how quickly you wish to recoup your costs. 
     Makhanik and Chazal are the founders of VUEMED, a healthcare services company, Seattle.