Running dangerously low on supplies – or worse, running completely out of an item that you use every day – is guaranteed to create stress and chaos in a busy practice. We venture to guess that you have plenty on your plate and would just as soon not have to worry about whether your exam rooms are adequately stocked and ready for patient care. Effective inventory management in the exam room (and throughout the practice, although here we’re focusing on the clinical side) saves time, money and unnecessary headaches. Here are a few ideas to consider.
Assign responsibility for inventory management to two back office staff members who are jointly accountable for ensuring that exam rooms are properly stocked. Having two people on the project is important in terms of keeping the system running smoothly when someone is on vacation or out sick, and with two staffers keeping an eye on supply levels they can catch one another’s oversights.
To the degree possible, set up each of your exam rooms to be standardized in terms of placement of furniture and equipment and the drawers and cabinets in which supplies are stored. Label storage areas and keep everything in its proper place. If you store sample medications in exam rooms, keep them in a locked cabinet or drawer.
Determine how often routine ordering is needed in your office. Depending on your patient volume and the types of supplies you use most, weekly or bi-weekly ordering should be about right, although a monthly order might work in some practices.
Create an ordering form that’s customized to your practice so that staff responsible for ordering can quickly move from room to room to see what’s needed at any given time. The form should list all supplies that are routinely used, the brand/manufacturer, item number and the usual amount or number kept on hand. For example:
Using a form such as this makes it quick and easy to checkmark or highlight what needs to be purchased. Once you’re at the computer, placing an order should take only a few minutes.
When supplies arrive, make sure that what’s in the shipment matches the original order and the packing slip. If items are on backorder, follow up to find out if/when they’re shipping or if you need to re-order to ensure that they arrive.
If storage space in exam rooms is at a premium, have an overflow closet or cabinet elsewhere in the office. Determine how often (daily or weekly) each room needs to be replenished from the overflow storage area.
At least once a month, check supplies that have expiration dates and discard anything that is too old to safely use. If you have a tight inventory control system, wasting supplies because they’ve expired should not happen very often.
Creating an effective inventory management plan is a good long-term investment. Keep in mind, though, that a system is only as good as the people using it. Develop a system that works for your office, refine it over time and then follow it to the letter.