Doug Halsall | Technology and inventory management
I remember back in late 2009, the National Blood Transfusion Service ran out of blood bags and had only expired stock that they could not use to collect and store blood.
Back then, it became quite a major issue primarily because, as a country, we have always had a problem with collecting sufficient blood in voluntary donations to satisfy the needs of our sick and those requiring emergency care.
The Ministry of Health, at the time, blamed the occurrence on a lack of proper inventory management, saying that the bags in stock were not properly monitored and were used from newest to oldest, instead of the reverse.
The result then was the expiration of the bags before they got to the front of the queue.
Outside of blood bags, as important as they are, shortage of pharmaceutical drugs in the public sector could be the difference between life and death.
If the shortage is because of a lapse in inventory management, as many anecdotal stories of the public health sector pharmaceutical supplies indicate, this is something that we can easily manage and monitor with the use of technology.
Inventory management modules can be built into health information management systems or can stand alone to help institutions such as hospitals, health centres and pharmacies manage their inventories.
This is an easy and affordable way - when you calculate the cost of loss due to expired and "lost" inventory - to ensure that the facility is always on target with its needs and ordering schedule.
It is a way to track how much is coming in versus how much is going out to ensure that supply stays constant, inventory doesn't expire, low-demand drugs and other items are ordered in smaller quantities and high demand in larger quantities.
The inventory-management system has several features that can make it easier to manage supply, increase efficiency and realise cost savings. The best systems are those that are customisable and can achieve the following features, among others:
- Real-time tracking of inventory, which includes usage analysis, low stock and expiry alerts.
- Purchase order generation and tracking.
- Consistent inventory information and linkages with all users on the system.
- Easy tracking and ordering of inventory across multiple facilities.
- Specific insights into products and their usage, which can provide important user information for research purposes, including forecasting or identifying possible outbreaks or prevalent health conditions based on medication usage.
- Automatically calculate unit costs and apply taxes.
- Differentiate cost between prescription and over-the-counter items.
- Multiple options to set reorder for stock based on pace of movement.
- Automatic generation of quotations and requests sent to all suppliers. The system can rank suppliers based on the best price, quality of product and best time between order and delivery.
- Online registration of suppliers.
- Multilevel security - the system can cross-reference delivery and security checks for additional verification. Information on delivery and receiving officers are logged into the system.
- Calculate loss ratios based on expired drugs to be destroyed.
- Stock auditing - can provide specific date availability of stock. Can also do daily stock counts and analysis of stock movement between dates.
- More than 300 inventory and dispensing reports can be provided.
- Cost comparisons based on movement of currency and price.
- Report on non-moving items.
- Vendor reports to include list of items available, sold and returns. Vendors can also be rated.
- Can be integrated with most accounting software.
A proper inventory-management system can result in an easy flow, increased efficiency, lower cost and improved access. The public health sector can also benefit from synergies with facility linkages and sharing of supplies.