Inventory management and GS1 standards: Whatís in it for me and my team?

Nicola Hall of Ingenica Solutions discusses how inventory management solutions will benefit NHS staff

Nicola Hall

The Government has mandated that all hospitals in the country are required to implement inventory management and GS1 barcoding standards. Nicola Hall, managing director at Ingenica Solutions, looks at whatís in it for NHS employees

By managing and controlling all the supplies in and out of a hospital using barcoding technology, it is possible to identify when a medical implant, for instance, is ordered, which surgeon used it, when, where, and on which patient

Ongoing deliberation of how best to tackle our financially-overstretched healthcare sector, in conjunction with ensuring patient safety in the event of product failures, have driven the development of new standards and guidelines.

One of the latest examples is that the Government has mandated all trusts in the country must implement inventory management and GS1 standards; a significant step forward for the sector.

While most of those at the heart of procurement and supply chain management are clear on whatís involved and have fully embraced the changes, for NHS employees whose roles fall outside of these teams, many feel less engaged; confused about what it means, and how it will affect day-to-day roles.

Itís important to remember that GS1 standards affect every system that touches a patient. Not only is it about products; itís about patient ID, and location

These changes are being introduced to improve processes and efficiencies, to reduce expenditure, and, ultimately, to improve patient care. The benefits of implementing inventory management systems and GS1 standards in the NHS are vast. It brings improvements to patient safety and outcomes; savings and efficiencies; data standardisation, reporting and visibility; and management information and costing.

In practice

For a greater understanding of how this works in practice, it is best illustrated using the retail industry as an example. Supermarkets purchase products from suppliers. Using inventory management systems and barcoding technology supplies are tracked and managed into store before being purchased by consumers. The supermarkets track every movement of the product; when it was ordered, where it was delivered, and who bought it. GS1 would enable the same process is now a reality for hospitals. GS1 data standards enable the use of automated data capture using bar codes.

By managing and controlling all the supplies in and out of a hospital using barcoding technology, it is possible to identify when a medical implant, for instance, is ordered, which surgeon used it, when, where, and on which patient.

It is not only the procurement and supply chain teams that have a part to play, or who indeed benefit. Collectively, everyone is part of these changes

Itís important to remember that GS1 standards affect every system that touches a patient. Not only is it about products; itís about patient ID, and location.

Collective contribution

For inventory management and GS1 coding standards to be successful every NHS employee must contribute; a message which must be fed across the entire organisation, across the entire NHS. It is not only the procurement and supply chain teams that have a part to play, or who indeed benefit. Collectively, everyone is part of these changes.

However, there is a general consensus that many do not feel the message has yet filtered through, which has created a lack of understanding around what these developments mean for individual healthcare workers.

There are significant advantages across the workforce. Take nurses as an example. A number of studies indicate that up to 25% of nursing time is spent managing supplies and re-ordering. Other reports quote 1 hour per person per shift. Hospitals currently using inventory management and barcoding technologies have reported significant savings in clinical time and the ability to free up staff time for frontline duties. Effectively, more time spent on patient care rather than administration duties. For frontline workers who enter the profession to provide patient care, this is a welcome development.

The ability to accurately track and trace products and patients adds value to our health service it many ways. It reduces the likelihood of errors and costs as it provides full visibility at every step, which is crucial to patient safety

Implementing inventory management systems and GS1 standards is predominately about changing processes and behaviour, which, like anything new, takes time to embed. Many clinicians, for instance, are used to ordering what products they need, whenever needed. Moving forward this will very quickly become a thing of the past, and rather than being seen as losing an element of control, as some have expressed concern about, it is infact a huge step forward. Itís an opportunity to eradicate old, outdated procedures and replace with up-to-date practices successfully used in the commercial world.

Think about whatís wrong with how procurement works now. Itís manual, highly dependent on individualís knowledge and commitment, and relies on clinicians checking shelves. It only works due to individualís commitment not the processes or systems.

This often means that clinicians have more interaction with suppliers than procurement. It is also common for clinicians to stockpile supplies in cupboard or desk drawers, which again does not create the best working conditions. Hospitals including Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust that use new technologies to manage the process state that it has led to a cleaner, more co-ordinated environment as supplies can now be organised in a stock room rather than clinicians storing their own supplies.

GS1 standards are essential to make the NHS more affordable and imperative to the future of our healthcare system. It provides an opportunity to do things differently, to improve old ways of working. The ability to accurately track and trace products and patients adds value to our health service it many ways. It reduces the likelihood of errors and costs as it provides full visibility at every step, which is crucial to patient safety.

Implementing inventory management systems and GS1 standards is predominately about changing processes and behaviour, which, like anything new, takes time to embed

It also improves staff efficiency, so through using new processes it eliminates the heavy dependency on manpower and provides line managers, and finance and procurement better cost information, and means that clinicians are not tangled up in excess paperwork or indeed ordering or locating their own products. Furthermore, as it facilitates patient level costing, it allows a greater understanding by all of cost drivers in the NHS.

Other studies suggest that patient safety is improved by clinical staff and supply chain staff working together to standardise product and working practices. Again, an improvement in working relationships is a positive outcome, particularly as in the past it has sometimes been strained between teams.

Trusts certainly need to make a concerted effort to ensure that the entire workforce is engaged in inventory management and GS1 standards at every stage. The benefits extend across teams and have a positive impact on day-to-day working practices.

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