Can mobile apps help us reach ‘supply Nirvana’?

por Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | May 12, 2021
From the May 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Mobile apps are the portal to reducing costs and increasing productivity in the supply chain world, according to Brent Wigington, director of operations integration at Intermountain Healthcare. He explained to a virtual room of supply chain providers at last year’s AHRMM annual meeting that apps can do this by minimizing the total cost of ownership of ordering and distributing products.

“This includes things like labor, expired products, excess inventory, counting, stocking and all the other things that are involved in that process,” he added. “By the end of the presentation, we want you to learn some additional tools to improve processes without expensive system programming.”

One of the major sources of supply chain inefficiency is the lack of inventory management training on the part of nurses. Wigington referenced this love-hate relationship between nurses and supplies — they need the supplies, but they have to spend valuable patient-facing time ordering them.

“I have not yet worked with a nurse who said that they were trained as a part-time inventory manager,” he quipped. “Nurses just order supplies to make sure that they have something to treat their patients when they need it.”

Typically, nurses order more supplies than necessary because they don’t get into trouble for excess stock, but they have big consequences for not having enough. As a result, the yearly overstock rate will be higher and many of those products will expire in the meantime.

Intermountain Healthcare has experimented with the use of Kanban as a solution, which is a supply chain optimization tool that replenishes supplies on a visual, predefined, pull basis.

Wigington said that the health system’s Kanban works very well to help identify when a product needs to be ordered and what the re-order point should be. By overlaying this system with a mobile app, nurse’s order times are reduced to about 20 minutes per week, down from 5 hours per week.

“Product overstock and outdates are also reduced to zero because the nurse only orders what they need to fill the bin and nothing more,” he added. “While the nurse is maintaining the integrity of the Kanban system, their frustration with supply bingo is over and they’ve really reached ‘supply Nirvana’.”

Cynthia Shumway, director of business applications for supply chain and shared services at the health system, was instrumental in getting this mobile app up and going.

The health system first implemented Kanban primarily in their acute care settings as well as a few non-acute care settings with supply chain personnel. The workflow required them to go between the mobile apps and their enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which made it a “clunky” process and required a deep understanding of supply chain terms.

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