medical inventory management challenges

Medical Inventory Control Techniques: What Are the Options?

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Inventory control techniques are a significant issue for medical, veterinary, and dental offices. One challenge is that these offices come in all shapes and sizes. They have varying numbers of locations, doctors, staff member, and patients, as well as different workflows, best practices, and procedures. Moreover, their staff members are unique individuals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. All these factors make your practice unique, so it’s important to find an inventory control technique that fits your workflow.

Inventory Control Techniques

There are two main techniques that are helpful, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The Supply Closet Technique

The supply closet technique is fairly simple. You scan out items from the supply closet and use them to stock your examination rooms. The items are counted as dispensed once they leave the closet. With this approach you are not scanning out items every time they’re used, you simply estimate how much you will need for that day or week and scan out that amount. When you order more supplies, you scan them in and replenish the storage room.

barcoding medical inventory

This method is easy and avoids interrupting the workflow.  It also gives good basic information on where your items are coming from, how much they cost, and how much of each item you should keep on hand. The disadvantage is that it does not show real-time data on actual item usage until after one inventory cycle.  In the meantime you could be running low or completely out of an important item, and have to make an expensive rush purchase. This can be a problem as your practice grows in complexity and consumes supplies at a faster rate.

The Transaction Technique

The transaction technique is designed to provide detailed real-time data about inventory use and patterns. With this method, you still use the main inventory closet, but you do not scan out items when you stock the examination rooms. Instead, you only scan out items when they are actually used for a patient.

In addition at scan-out, you can also note the doctor, department, and patient.  This way you can track usage patterns, and perhaps see if a staff member or department is using too much of an item. Modern inventory software can this data to produce detailed reports that are helpful in budgeting and other planning.

This transaction technique requires more effort by your staff and ideally uses inventory management software that can track this information. These systems can track thousands of transactions and alert you when levels are running low and it is time to reorder. Some programs can even tell you the exact quantity to reorder. This way you can avoid overbuying products that end up expiring on the shelf. We encourage all medical providers to examine their inventory control techniques and determine which model works best for them. But we encourage you to give serious consideration to inventory management software since systems can be a powerful and easy-to-use management tool.  A wise investment in technology can make a big difference in your cost levels and help keep your practice financially healthy for years to come.