Hospital inventory management: The data doesn’t lie


When a medical emergency strikes, can you be certain where your ventilators are? When lives are at stake, delays become deadly. Hospital administrators and clinicians are under enormous pressure to properly track vital equipment so they can easily find it. Yet ageing hospital systems aren’t always up to the task.  

Pandemic exposes inventory management weaknesses

The need to understand resource and inventory management has become much more obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consider the Nightingale Trusts, for example. The organisation rapidly built hospital capacity without thinking through all the needs first and failed to make effective use of resources. Originally planned to have 4,000 beds, the London’s Nightingale treated just 54 patients between April and May due to spare capacity in the city’s other hospitals.

Similarly, the government spent £569 million buying 20,900 ventilators to keep people alive during the pandemic, but lack of demand means NHS hospitals have used just a few of them. All but 2,150 of the machines it bought are still being held in a Ministry of Defence warehouse in case they are needed in the second wave of the disease. Canada had similar issues with ventilator purchases. The 40,000 ventilators the government ordered came with a $1.1 billion price tag. But experts believe, even in a worst-case scenario, these machines may never be used.

The need is great, and hospitals are putting in the investment needed. But the allocation of resources is far from effective. UK hospitals continue to suffer serious shortages of vital medical equipment such as ventilators, pumps to administer drugs, and oxygen cylinders during the NHS’s ongoing winter crisis. In addition, lost and stolen equipment costs the NHS millions each year. This is why NHS trusts have started running lost equipment "amnesties" for equipment that goes missing each year, worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

The fruits of effective inventory management

So what can be done to address the issue and create better patient outcomes? Trusts are turning to technologies that track equipment throughout the hospital workflow, often in real time. Wireless tracking solutions can help prevent loss and theft but also help inform asset management, maintenance and purchasing decisions. The Nursing Times suggests nurses spend roughly one week a month hunting for equipment and supplies. This wasted time can slow response times and delay procedures, potentially compromising patient safety. 

The first step to being able to manage and optimise hospital capacity, critical equipment and supply inventories is to have access to the relevant information. With advanced data analytics capabilities and a data collection aid, hospitals can implement up-to-date data ingestion and data provisioning processes across all environments. Data, otherwise lost or siloed, is made intelligible and exploitable. 

Intuitive inventory management insights

When hospital managers view this insight through an intuitive, web-based interface, they can obtain critical information, such as total capacity; inventory of specialised capacity, such as ventilator beds; utilisation; and availability on a required frequency (daily, weekly, monthly). The use of AI and machine learning tools to model hospital processes and capital efficiency will provide new insights for strategic planning and the scaling of operations based on each trust’s unique context.

Real-time, detailed insight into hospital operations will deliver substantial financial and efficiency dividends. Hospitals can effectively manage inventory across all departments, eliminating unnecessary searching times for tracked equipment and the needless hoarding and loss of stock. The equipment needed for surgery remains properly calibrated and logged and can be easily readied in the operating theatre for use when required. Effectively managed inventory also reduces the need for renting equipment, contributing to lower annual capital spending. 

As our health care system tackles the second wave of the pandemic, it’s crucial we overcome the mistakes and obstacles of the first. Having a real-time, comprehensive understanding of what equipment we have and where will give trusts a key advantage now and in future health emergencies. Data and advanced analytics are the backbones of an effective inventory tracking and management system.

To further understand how SAS can help the NHS in its transformation journey with AI and analytics, visit the SAS dedicated health care page.


About Author

Mark Frankish

SAS Data Scientist, SAS UK

Mark Frankish has over 15 years’ Analytical experience, with a breadth of industry domain knowledge and the SAS portfolio. He is a specialist in the Public Sector and the challenges and solutions in Welfare, Health and Fraud.

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