While at the hospital with my son, I couldn’t help but notice the day-to-day logistics needed to keep medical items stocked and ready for use at a moment’s notice.
I am extremely proud to say I have two very active and adventurous sons. On occasion, however, that means I get to visit our local hospital to get them fixed up. On one such visit, I entertained myself by thinking about the logistics behind the day-to-day operations of the medical facility (probably a sign of a bad father or bored engineer).
While waiting for all the materials to come together from various locations to assemble the cast for my two-year-old son’s leg, I began analyzing the logistics management required to ensure the proper materials are available when needed throughout the hospital. I watched as all the pieces were brought together like a well-orchestrated performance, and I realized the x-ray films, each of the 25 optional cast patterns, the gauze, gloves, masks, never ending paper forms, and everything else down to the copious flavors of suckers needed to pacify a two-year-old, must be inventoried somewhere and ready at a moment’s notice.
Managing, coordinating, and moving the materials from storage to the point of use within the hospital is no small task and requires tremendous behind-the-scenes labor to ensure doctors and nurses spend their time and skills caring for patients, not retrieving medical supplies from storage. To do all of this more efficiently, hospitals are turning to the technologies that distribution centers and manufacturing facilities across the nation use to deliver supplies, raw materials, and tools to the point of use.
Automated guided vehicles (AGV), warehouse management systems (WMS), and automated storage technologies are being used to increase the efficiency of medical institutions reducing the amount of labor required to store and track inventory, retrieve materials from storage, and deliver them to the point of use wherever that might be throughout the hospital campus. These types of technologies are helping proud fathers like me get our boys out of the hospital as quickly as possible so we can seek out our next adventure. (His leg healed nicely by the way.)
1. Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
The vast number of unique items that must be available at a moment’s notice within a hospital makes the efficient storage, retrieval, and management of the complex inventory a critical operation in the professional care of their patients. A warehouse management system allows hospitals to increase productivity and efficiency without adding labor, while also improving inventory control and accuracy.
2. Automated Storage Technologies
Every square inch of space is very valuable throughout the entire medical campus. It is therefore vital that hospitals store their supplies to maximize storage in a minimal space. This can be done many ways with automated storage technologies, and one example of this is a vertical lift module (VLM). A VLM densely stores materials from the floor to the ceiling but allows for easy retrieval at a moment’s notice. It can also tie seamlessly into a WMS or operate independently and requires minimal training to operate. VLMs can also be used to manage inventory and secure it to ensure only authorized personnel have access to a given item.
3. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV)
After supplies are found and removed from inventory, they still need to be transported to the point of use. Traditionally, this is done by utilizing hospital staff and carts to move products throughout the campus, which could mean through miles of underground tunnels. Automated guided vehicles provide a cost effective and safe way to transport medical supplies, laundry, or even meals all over the campus and many do this by transporting the same carts that were being used prior to implementing AGVs. As seen in the video below, Cleveland Clinic implemented automated guided vehicles to move supplies throughout its main campus and improve patient care.
We have helped several pharmaceutical distributors, medical device manufacturers, and hospitals improve operational efficiency and patient care through material handling automation, including Roche Diagnostics in Indianapolis. Watch the Roche Diagnostics case study video here. With the implementation of the new system, Roche was able to reduce operating costs, increase pack rates, and improve inventory visibility helping the company better serve its clients and eventually the end patient.