Reducing inventory waste has a direct correlation on patient wellbeing; the less time doctors and nurses are searching supply rooms, the more time they can spend with patients. In healthcare, fighting inventory waste is as much about organization as it is about how much inventory you have.
The Store Room:
Your clinic’s business model will determine the type, volume, and range of medicines and supplies you need to carry. A speciality clinic will need to be stocked deeper in its given field, while an urgent care clinic needs the broadest range to address the massive variety of cases.
Do not neglect store-room organization. Clutter happens fast, leading to increased time wasted looking while patients are left waiting, and potentially resulting in a lack of space when urgent supplies arrive.
Have a Tracking System:
What kind of inventory management software are you using? Do its required processes sync naturally with your clinic’s operations, or do your staff have to go out of their way to update it?
If you’re not using a third party to track inventory, how are you doing it? While documenting every tongue depressor is a time waste, losing high-value equipment can add up to massive wasted dollars very quickly.
5S is a pillar of Lean thinking with a disciplined approach to storing and maintaining materials and would adapt well to clinics.
Some inventory combines the unsettling mix of expiring rapidly and being costly. Waste reduction starts with being aware of how the medicines are being used and the context in which people are using them.
If the newest bottles go in front, the ones in the back will expire while those in front are being used, leaving you with the costly waste of throwing away expired meds. Even worse is if, in the clinic’s hustle and bustle, someone grabs a bottle for a patient that is expired.
A Lean approach would be to colour-code labels so that, at a glance, hurried nurses and doctors can grab the right medicine, rather than having to read the fine print on a dozen bottles to find the best one to use.
How many pre-printed intake forms do you keep at the front desk? It may not sound like a serious waste, but if you have 500 forms at a hard cost of about $0.10 each to print, it becomes an investment. Multiply that with how many types of forms you have and it becomes potential waste.
Printing takes nominal time. While printing ahead of time is usually the work of well-meaning front-end staff, here are the downsides:
- You could change, or be compelled to change, the data fields required
- They could get lost or damaged
- They take up valuable real estate at the front desk.
Printing is low-hanging fruit for Just-in-Time Thinking (which stresses creating inventory only when orders warrant it). Print a couple days worth of forms at a time and use the example as a training tool to show your staff how easy it can be to fight waste if we just look for it.