Whether driven by cost pressure or sunsetting of legacy systems, many healthcare organizations are re-evaluating the inventory management technology they have in place. It is common to find older systems in use that require manual steps like entry of a device pin number or manual inventory counts. However, newer technology, like RFID, offers greater security, tracking, speed, and accuracy, and should be considered by companies upgrading their technology.
Where Legacy Inventory Management Solutions Have Not Kept Pace
Most inventory management leaders and medical device manufacturers are familiar with items like automated dispensing cabinets by Pyxis or Omnicell. Years ago, these systems represented market-leading technology. “Historically these were a big step up from what acute care facilities were doing,” explained Keith Hoffman, National Sales Manager at Terso Solutions. “Most facilities were using manual processes like spreadsheets and binders.” Introducing any level of automation was an improvement.
However, inventory management technology continued to evolve over the years and too many legacy systems held onto manual steps. “They are still not completely automated,” Hoffman explained. “You still have to enter information to get in, then enter more information to tell it what you’re taking.” Because those steps remain manual, accuracy is impacted by time constraints and comfort levels of staff. “If I’m not sure how to interact with this machine, I may do it wrong even if I’ve been trained,” Hoffman described. “Once that door or drawer is open, I can really take whatever I want.”
Advantages Newer Technologies Offer Over Legacy Systems
With companies like Omnicell sunsetting key product offerings, there is an opportunity for organizations to rethink their approach to inventory management and leverage greater automation (Turner, 2022). Newer technologies, like UHF RFID, offer a number of features over legacy systems, including greater functionality and user-friendliness. “UHF RFID tries to make the interaction as easy and as automated as possible,” Hoffman explained. “Every inventory item within an enclosure has a tag assigned to it and all counting is automatic. All you have to do is walk up to the device, present an access pass, take out whatever you need, close the door and walk away.”
This level of automation is why RFID technology has become core to warehouse and logistics management. RFID allows for identifying large volumes of items without manual intervention, thereby increasing the efficiency of operations (Du, 2021). This not only eliminates reliance on already busy workers to accurately enter information, it also alleviates the need to overstock items, an approach that is both costly and increases the risk of expiration. “You don’t need to overstock because you have more confidence that what is in that inventory report is really what you have,” Hoffman stated.
What Leaders Should Consider When Upgrading Systems
Inventory management and medical device manufacturing leaders looking to expand or upgrade solutions should evaluate several factors of current technology:
- How is the system solving pain points of today, not ten years ago?
“Where are your biggest pain points in the process? Start by digging into the data you have and what you’re experiencing,” Hoffman recommended. “Are you losing products due to expiration date issues? Are you writing off a good amount every month? How much time are you spending counting boxes or filling out information that should really be spent with patients?”
2. What return on investment can be achieved?
Companies can lower cost by leveraging sensing technology and end-to-end systems to track high-cost items and reduce overstock. “Whether it’s consignment inventory, or purchased and owned inventory, this is where RFID systems can really help you” Hoffman explained. “Instead of carrying $10 million in inventory, you can carry $2 million. You can save a lot.”
3. What type of customer service and support does a technology company offer?
“Picking companies who’ve done this pretty consistently and can provide service all the way from installation to training to real-time support is key,” Hoffman pointed out. “This is critical inventory, so the system has to be up and running. The ability to spot issues before they happen can be really transformative for organizations. Find those with experience who have a footprint in the acute care space with this kind of technology.”