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Telehealth Inventory Management: Best Practices for Improved Outcomes

By Lauren Anderson

Inventory management is essential to the success of any telehealth program. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pay for expensive software and hire a whole team of logisticians in order to establish efficient inventory management procedures. The Logistics Department at Health Recovery Solutions has experienced the growing pains of building these procedures from scratch, so we’ve developed a guide of best practices to help your organization right away. Three important (and easy!) areas of improvement for better inventory management include equipment tracking, unit storage, and the creation of a telehealth procedure manual.

Equipment Tracking

Why is equipment tracking important? Short answer – you need to know where your units are at all times. This is even more important in healthcare because the contents of each box that we track include valuable medical devices that help keep patients out of the hospital.

At HRS, we track our units on two levels: general inventory and individual unit. Items in general inventory include tablets, scales, pulse oximeters, blood pressure monitors, and a few other peripheral devices. Items in general inventory are organized in a spreadsheet according to serial number, which is uniquely assigned by the manufacturer. A complete unit contains one of each of these components. Once a unit is created, each device is assigned a matching asset tag, which is used as its new identifier. Below is more information on both levels of inventory tracking to help you determine which of these levels could be most useful for you.

Level 1 – Device: Examples of devices include: tablet, blood pressure monitors, scales, and pulse oximeters. You should be able to access the serial numbers for all devices in your inventory. When devices are swapped out, the serial numbers should be updated. If you don’t already have a record of the serial numbers for your devices, you can easily get this started. Include an inventory step in your intake process until all devices in your inventory are cataloged. Make sure to keep this updated when any devices are replaced.

Level 2 – Unit: A unit is defined as the combination of devices that constitute your telehealth kit. Instead of using serial numbers, you can organize units according to a unique asset tag. When creating new inventory management procedures, it’s also important to track the life cycle of units in your inventory. To create a more accurate record of your inventory, document the number of patients that have used each unit and their length of enrollment. In addition, you should monitor your equipment for any replacements or swaps that need to be made so that you can make any necessary changes to your tracking document. Consistent tracking will ensure that go through your intake and sanitation processes prior to be added back to general inventory.

How to Create a Tracking Document

1.   Start with a list of what is important to you, this can include search terms that you use, or pieces of information that need to be easily accessible. Some examples are included below…

    • Patient Name

    • Unit Number

    • Ordering Clinician

    • Date Order Submitted

2.   Create a Template

    • Use the key pieces of information as column headers

    • Fill in the spreadsheet with your current information

3.   Stay Updated

    • Set aside time at the beginning or end of every day to update your document with new information that was collected during the day.

    • Make sure this document is available to all relevant employees

Equipment Storage

It is important that the storage of your units is standardized. Determine a naming convention, and make sure that all units are properly labelled. Update labels that become worn out or lost. Units should be kept together in an organized fashion that allows you to visually determine what units are available to be assigned to a patient. The guide below can get you started with creating a layout that works for you!

    1. Analyze the space and materials you have available for storage

    2. Create a mock-up on paper

    3. Re-arrange your equipment

**Pro-Tip** Make sure to take measurements of your space, as well as the shelving units you have available. There are many free virtual floor plan programs available on the internet that can give you a visual of what the final layout will look like, before you move everything around.

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Telehealth Procedure Manual

Creating standard procedures that will be used by all members of your program is essential to maintaining consistency. There are several steps that can be taken in order to create a manual that works for your team. Determine your workflow and create a write up for each step, using flowcharts or diagrams to help guide the user. Try to design the manual so that anyone is able to study the process and fully complete your inventory management procedure from start to finish. We’ve included some questions to get you started below.

    1. How are units selected once a patient has been identified for telehealth? Do some units stay on the shelves longer than others? (Try implementing a first in first out procedure)

    2. Once a patient is deactivated, what is the intake process?

    3. How will units be sanitized?

    4. How often will you replace the batteries in your devices?

    5. Where will tablets be charged?

    6. Who will update the equipment tracking document with device swap outs?

    7. How will you identify which units are for patient use?

Once you have answered some of these questions you can create sections of your manual to reflect the procedures that are most important for you. We recommend using pictures in additions to words to create a standalone document.

Inventory management is an essential process that can create more efficiency for your team and your program. Regardless of the size of your organization, there are areas for improvement in inventory tracking. These challenges are what inspired us to create PatientDirect, a comprehensive inventory management program that leaves the stress of shipping, receiving, sanitizing, and equipment tracking to the experts! Because you need to focus on what you do best, providing excellent care to your patients, contact us to schedule a consultation!

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Tags: telehealth, telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, cost savings, logistics

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