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One Size Fits All? Different Approaches to Medical Inventory Management

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The concept of medical inventory management seems straightforward, and you always hear the same advice. Use barcode scanning, control usage, and disappearance. Be strict. Use technology, but make sure staff knows how to use it. And on it goes. But what’s the key?

One issue with medical inventory management lies with the amount of stock going in and out of your office. If the volume is low, then common-sense tips related to the closet arrangement, purchasing and usage will often suffice. If your practice uses a small set of items in large amounts, simply having a dedicated staffer using an Excel spreadsheet can be highly effective. But if you are like most practices, you are probably growing each year and using an increasingly complex set of supplies. In this case, a manual method like Excel may not be the best choice for managing your inventory.

The Operation, Not the Office

The key for medical inventory management, then, is thinking about the size of your operation, not the size of your office. Depending on the field of practice, even a “small” office can quickly find itself dealing with hundreds of medical products, each with their own unique parameters of use and procurement. And of course, the challenge is greater in a complex setting like a hospital or other multi-practice environment. In these cases, the need for repeatable procurement and dispensation control is best provided by technology.

The Role of Technology

It is not an overstatement to say that the past few years have seen a revolution in the field of medical inventory management. The advent of “smart” devices at an affordable price pushes power and accountability to the front-line workers who work directly with patients. A simple scan sends information flowing into the entire system so that there is actionable knowledge for the system and supervisors to process. Supermarkets and big box stores discovered this dynamic decades ago, and there is no reason for the health care industry to not share in these benefits, especially when there is so much to gain in the areas of medical supply availability and patient outcomes.

When it comes to managing inventory, there are a number of strategies to consider. But given the resources now available, it would benefit most medical practices, clinics, and facilities to take a serious look at using new technologies to help with medical inventory management.