When Northwestern Memorial Hospital (NMH) began exploring technologies to improve inventory management roughly five years ago, it wasn't motivated by any specific event or mandate.
"Our overarching goal was to gain central control of inventory, taking it out of the clinicians' hands so they could focus on patient care," says Brian Stepien, the director of supply-chain distribution and logistics at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, the parent company of the 900-bed teaching hospital in downtown Chicago. "We wanted the ability to track supplies in real time. It was important to us to step out of what's normally the health-care supply chain centered on clinicians having to document, item by item, every time they use any surgical supply or medication.
To that end, Northwestern Memorial worked with Advanced Research Company (ARC), an Orion, Mich.-based vendor, to develop an RFID-based inventory-management solution. ARC has since spun off a medical specialty division, ARC Healthcare Technologies.
In 2012, Northwestern Memorial Hospital deployed an RFID solution to track and manage medical supplies used in its main operating room. The following year, it began rolling out the solution to other hospital departments. And last year, the organization rolled out the system to its 200-bed Lake Forest Hospital.
Today, NMH RFID-tracks roughly 26,400 items at the main hospital alone. The facility has improved cost efficiencies by reducing product loss due to unused or expired items, and by ensuring patients are billed for the products used during their stay. In addition, rather than cutting jobs, the solution improved workflow for physicians and nurses.
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