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Track supplies, save money by computerizing inventory
Designate staff, prepare preference cards
As reimbursement levels fall, hospital managers are faced with the task of improving profit levels. Because increasing volume can increase profits, managers often look toward increasing the number of cases that can be handled within the workday.
By computerizing your inventory and integrating it with your scheduling and billing systems, you can improve your efficiency and enjoy a cost savings, says F. Craig Veach, associate vice president for Source Medical Solutions, a health care software company based in Birmingham, AL.
"A computerized inventory system with a perpetual inventory means that you know what you have on a day-to-day basis and can order every other day rather than weekly or biweekly," he says. The ability to order more frequently without having to do a manual inventory means less stock is kept on hand, and this situation improves cash flow, he points out. For example, a facility that spends $1.2 million each year on supplies when ordering on a weekly basis can order every other day and reduce spending to $700,000, he says.
A good inventory system will utilize preference cards as a way of tracking supplies that are used and also will monitor your stock and alert you when a supply falls below your pre-set par level, says Veach. The system should help you identify supplies that are not used so you can evaluate whether you should continue stocking them, he adds.
While many managers may cringe at the thought of developing preference cards to integrate with the inventory and scheduling systems, the effort is worthwhile, says Terri Gatton, RN, CNOR, administrator of the Zanesville (OH) Surgery Center.
Her facility is only three years old, so developing the preference cards was part of the start-up, she explains. "I have gone through a conversion from a system that did not use preference cards to one that did, and I still recommend that preference cards be developed to ensure the best use of the inventory system," she adds.
Although Gatton chose to develop preference cards for all 40 surgeons and their procedures, Veach suggests that managers who are converting to a computerized system consider producing preference cards for their highest-volume procedures. "Because 20% of your cases produce 80% of your revenue, focus your efforts on them," he says. Other cases such as eye procedures may require generic procedure cards that can be edited as needed, he adds.
Another time-saver can come from your vendors, says Veach. Most vendors can supply you with a downloadable supply and equipment list so you don’t have to enter all the information, he explains.
Gatton knew what features she was looking for in a system, but she believes that the key to successfully using your inventory system is to have a dedicated materials management coordinator.
"Don’t expect a staff member to assume these responsibilities on top of other jobs," she says. By having one person who manages inventory, purchasing, and receiving, you can keep a close control on your inventory, she says. Quarterly manual inventory counts that are done to double-check the inventory show that the computerized system is usually within $2,000 of the actual count, she adds.
The materials management person doesn’t have to be a clinical person, but Gatton has found that there are advantages if you find a nurse to handle the position, as she has. "Not only does she understand medications and recognize inconsistencies, but she can also filter out vendor representatives who want to see me," she says.