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Who would’ve thought a little handheld unit could save so much time and money? Not Jan Matzen, although she welcomed the new technology with open arms, knowing BryanLGH Medical Center’s legacy inventory-counting handhelds were wearing out.

Since switching to handhelds that communicate wirelessly with the hospital system’s materials management software from Lawson Software in St. Paul, Minn., employee hours spent doing physical inventory have been cut by more than half—and the number of employees required to do it has been similarly cut. Also, the new readers capture barcode information—a huge time-saver, she says.

The old system, which included wired handheld devices, couldn’t read bar codes and had to be plugged into desktop computers to upload inventory data for supplies ranging from cheap items like needles and film to extremely expensive ones like cardiac packs. Productivity suffered, says Matzen, materials management system liaison for the two-hospital, 395-staffed-bed system based in Lincoln, Neb.

Supplies for BryanLGH’s two hospitals are stored at a central warehouse, says Matzen, and even with the wired handhelds, needed to be counted physically more than once a year. Also, when the two smaller on-site storerooms needed resupply—about once a day—employees had to cradle the old handhelds while information was downloaded to a central terminal and printouts were generated to show what needed to be replenished.

“Now that they’re wireless, it speeds up the warehouse,” she says. Since counts are more accurate now and time lags have been largely eliminated, Matzen says the system is considering counting only every other day at the smaller storerooms and reducing reorder counts so that expensive supply inventory spends much less time sitting on shelves—paid for but not used.

Says Matzen, “now that we’ve done this, everything’s really stable.”

—Philip Betbeze