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Why Building a Nurse-Centric Supply Chain Matters


Eighty-six percent of nurses said supply chain workflows cause them stress and 85% said documenting supplies is challenging.

Hospitals and health systems have made great improvements to supply chain management processes over the past few years, but many have overlooked a critical stakeholder: Nurses. Nurses are heavily impacted by the supply chain, and often face significant challenges as a result of the cumbersome and time-consuming workflows associated with it.

A recent survey of 100 hospital nurses underscores the scope of the problem­—and the consequences hospitals may face as a result. Eighty-six percent of nurses said supply chain workflows cause them stress and 85% said documenting supplies is challenging. One in five said they have even considered leaving their current role because of supply chain problems.

Supply chain problems also threaten patient safety and margins. The survey respondents identified missed revenue as the biggest ramification of poor supply chain processes, and nearly one in four said they don’t have time to check product expiration or recall dates before using supplies.

As recognition of the need to create a more nurse-centric supply chain grows, leading hospitals are exploring new approaches. Here’s how your hospital can get started.

Implementing changes that complement and enhance nurse workflows

Many hospitals rely on closed cabinet systems for supply chain management, but such systems are expensive and require nurses to complete multiple steps to obtain and document supplies. They must first sign in, unlock the cabinet, pull the product, close the cabinet, and then manually enter the supply data in both the EHR and ERP if this integration does not exist. Time is not a luxury nurses have, and poor documentation workflows like these take a toll. In fact, nearly two-thirds of nurses who participated in the survey said their supply documentation system is time-consuming.

As hospitals seek to improve nurse workflows, many are moving away from closed cabinets to handheld barcode and RFID scanning tools. With these point-of-use (POU) tools, nurses can simply grab the supply from an easy-to-access location like an open bin and scan it. The supply is then automatically documented in the EHR and ERP.

POU tools are particularly useful in the ICU or operating room, since nurses can easily scan and document additional or unexpected items needed during procedures, and then quickly return their focus to the patient.

The transition to POU tools isn’t that difficult. Many hospitals are providing nurses with handheld devices integrated with new POU technologies and other existing hardware. To document chargeable items, nurses simply log into the supply chain management system using their mobile device, tag the patient, and scan the supply.

Top benefits of nurse-centric supply chain workflows

  • Higher nurse satisfaction. Improving supply chain processes helps nurses focus more on direct patient care, improving their satisfaction and reducing their stress. This is critical to both nurses and their hospitals, as physician and nurse burnout costs the U.S. more than $30 billion every year, according to the National Taskforce for Humanity in Healthcare.
  • Improved accuracy and chargeability. Since barcode and RFID scanning tools are easy to use and ensure automated documentation in the EHR and ERP, they increase the scope and accuracy of information captured. In fact, studies show that the application of RFID tags to supplies reduces costs, improves safety, and increases the ability to track and monitor patient billing.
  • Greater support for value-based reimbursement initiatives. Streamlined workflows and supply chain optimization help nurses and other clinicians respond more quickly to patients’ needs. This leads to improved outcomes and higher patient and nurse satisfaction, according to a late 2019 article in PSQH.
  • Enhanced patient safety and compliance.Product recalls and expirations occur frequently in the hospital supply chain. In fact, between 2002 and 2016, 806 million medical devices were recalled. Effective POU tools issue real-time alerts if a recalled or expired supply is scanned, helping ensure they aren’t used for patients.

Beyond POU: Advanced data analytics and insights drive continuous improvement

Supply chain management solutions that aggregate critical supply-related data are hugely beneficial in surgical and procedural areas. With these tools clinical leaders can easily identify improvement opportunities and nurses are equipped with tools to tackle tasks more efficiently. For example, physician preference cards list the supplies physicians want for procedures, and nurses and supply chain teams use them to pull items. Yet 97% of nurses who participated in nursing survey said physician preference cards are often inaccurate, and 95% said this decreases efficiency.

Data analytics and insights can help by generating a list of additional items that should be pulled prior to a procedure based on utilization trends. This reduces the likelihood that nurses will need to leave the OR to gather last-minute supplies during procedures, and it improves patient safety by shortening procedure and anesthesia duration and reducing the risk of a patient infection.

Further, artificial intelligence and machine learning based solutions also helps reduce waste and improve hospital margins. For example, it can support cost/variance reports by surgeon and/or procedure to help hospitals identify when lower-cost physician preference items are likely to result in similar or better patient outcomes. It can also identify trends related to supply usage and waste, such as when supplies are routinely pulled and opened but rarely used in a given procedure.

Engaging nurses and achieving buy-in

While supply chain technology can greatly enhance and complement nurse workflows, hospitals should obtain nurse input prior to making any decisions related to supply chain optimization initiatives. Failing to secure their input can lead to blind spots that needlessly frustrate nurses while limiting the benefits of the new technology. Involving nurses up front will also help secure their buy-in for any supply chain improvement initiative your hospital decides to pursue.

Lee Smith, RNFA, BSN, MBA, is the Vice President of Clinical Solutions at Syft, a healthcare supply chain management company. Smith has more than 35 years of experience in healthcare, including numerous years in hospitals as well as 20 years in supply chain and information technology.

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