From the staff development bookshelf: Supply management in nursing

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, January 27, 2012

The cost of inventory in healthcare organizations is generally smaller than the dollar amount from labor improvements and has historically been thought of as an insignificant opportunity when it came to cost savings; however, this has changed over time, especially with the advancements of technology such as operating room (OR) orthopedic implants, invasive cardiology devices, or even some of the specialty monitoring devices or wound care products. A major problem for healthcare organizations is the ability to predict the patient flow and patient needs. Organizations are dynamic and may experience seasonal or even daily peak demands, depending on the organization's location and services. Other challenges include meeting fluctuating volumes of a demand while staying within the small designated storage spaces often allotted for supplies on nursing units. Many items are critical, but not used regularly, which can result in critical need of a product that you can't find or don't have in the correct size. All of these issues have the potential to impact the outcomes for patients and tie up many precious minutes of nursing time in looking for the right product or device.

Inventory has a cash expense when acquired, a storage cost for both space and the potential of becoming out of date during storage time, and the exponential cost of not having an essential product, which can result in risk situations and delays in care. The nurse leader must balance the nurses' needs for immediate access with the organization's needs to control inventory costs.

Getting started
An essential initial approach is to review the detail journal listing as well as to establish a relationship with the materials management department. A critical review of the storage area inventory, accessibility, and organization are first steps. This is one of those times when it is valuable to involve a direct care nurse or support staff member who can articulate challenges with the supply availability and accessibility. The relationship with the staff during this process is critical; leaving the staff feeling valued as local experts, as well as giving them the opportunity to share ideas about changes that are needed. The materials department brings a voice of experience for a nurse leader, especially when it comes to understanding the processes, time frames for volume standards, and delivery cycles. Other key points of the discussion include understanding what each item is, what it cost, and the historical usage. This review is the beginning of developing a visual for the nurse leader of the current routines, what is working, and where potential opportunities are for efficiency and cost management.

Source: Book excerpt adapted from The Nurse Leader's Guide to Business Skills: Strategies for Optimizing Financial Performance by Pamela Hunt, BS, MSN, RN and Deborah Laughon, RN, BSN, MS, DBA, CCRN.

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