A small change to achieve a high-impact improvement in pharmacy inventory management

Although pharmacy automation provides benefits, there are other ways to improve hospital pharmacy inventory management without automation.

In studies conducted by PharmConsult, we found that pharmacy staff tasked with picking and labelling medications often spend more than 50% of their time involved in this activity walking to the storage area and about 15% of their time looking for the product. This is caused by the way the pharmacy department is laid out which forces pharmacists and technicians to walk long distances  where the time could be spent  on more productive activities, including those that will have a direct impact on medication safety and improved patient outcomes.

One reason for this inefficiency is that products have traditionally been arranged alphabetically in storage areas rather than according to the frequency of demand, a more effective way of storing products.

Many modern community pharmacies have solved this problem by storing the most commonly dispensed medications a step or two away from where the pharmacist or technician is dispensing them.

Moreover, what makes this concept even more attractive is that you don’t need to introduce radical changes to achieve tangible improvements.

Pareto’s principle, otherwise known as the 80/20 rule, states that roughly 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. The principle has been applied to numerous settings and industries, including pharmacy.

In our work in public and private hospital pharmacy departments, we have found that about 20% of the products account for about 80% of the volume.

Organising products according to demand levels can significantly speed up the dispensing process, which frees up staff to spend time more productively.

A four-step process to work out which products to place closest to those who are dispensing

  1. Calculate: use your hospital’s dispensing data to rank each product according to the frequency of use. One per cent of your stock is likely to make up about 25% of your dispensing volume.
  2. Segment: divide the stock into Fast, Medium and Slow movers based on how many times a week an item is used or ordered.
  3. Plan: Look at your pharmacy department’s layout and figure out how you can position products so that those used most frequently are closest to those dispensing – ideally a step or two away.
  4. Test and learn: You don’t need to start big. One way to introduce this change in a small way is to start with your top five products and reposition them within arms’ reach of each of the dispensing stations in the dispensary. Based on the outcome, you can then move on to the next five most commonly used products and so on.

Your department will be significantly more efficient in the use of time if you take the time to reorganise your stock. As a result, medicines will reach patients faster, discharges will be quicker, and pharmacists will be able to spend more time focusing on patients and their medication.

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