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In honor of National Nurses Week 2022, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my perspective on the importance of the operating room supply chain. As a circulating nurse, I am the patient’s advocate. I am their voice. If I have to leave the operating room (OR) to track down supplies, I won’t be there for the patient when they need me. Unfortunately for many OR nurses, tracking down needed items when you don’t have visibility into the healthcare supply chain can be like a scavenger hunt.
This is why improving the operating room supply chain is imperative to helping nurses and their workflows. When we’re looking to gain back efficiency and inventory visibility, we need to know the technology solutions that are in place will work in favor of the overall health system’s operations. Investing in the right point of use (POU) management system has the potential to truly turn our days around 180 degrees.
During one procedure, I had to leave the OR to find an item the surgeon needed and couldn’t find it. By the time I came back, the procedure had stopped because they were waiting for me to return with the item. Not having the right supplies can literally stop surgery.
Having to leave the OR during a case can also increase infection risk. We had a door counter to help us determine whether the number of times someone left the room and came back correlated with infection rates. Any time I had to leave the OR to look for an item, that led to the door opening twice – once as I left and once when I came back.
In other cases, we had to cancel surgeries when we realized we didn’t have the implants we needed. This impacts the patient, who made big changes in their life to be there for surgery, and any family members or friends with them who took time off to be there. This also messes up the OR team’s day by throwing off our whole schedule and potentially affects other patients who were scheduled for procedures later in the day.
In the health system that I previously worked at, we implemented a point of use inventory management system for tracking of perioperative supplies, including implants. Initially, we expected some hurdles and delays, as anyone would expect with a new technology solution. Instead, the opposite was true — the day of go-live we found our workflow so efficient that we were ahead of schedule. We actually sped up and were able to add additional cases.
Because it is an end-to-end solution, tracking supplies from point of receipt to the point of use, we had the visibility to plan ahead. We could look at our surgery schedule, check inventory and make sure we had everything we needed for a case through the operating room supply chain system. If we found something we didn’t have for an upcoming surgery, we had time to get it from the supplier. There was no more rush to overnight missing supplies, which with supply shortages might not even be possible.
If we ran out of an item in one OR, instead of running around looking for it, I used the solution to pinpoint exactly where we had available inventory in our health system. For example, I could see on the screen that OR three had the item just two doors down from where I was in OR five. I could walk down there and get it or I can locate the item in the surgery center down the road and make arrangements to have it delivered to where it was needed. Thanks to the operating room supply chain system, and resulting efficiencies, having that level of visibility meant I could focus much more of my time on the patient.
The new POU solution improved the relationship between the OR and Supply Chain teams. When we lacked visibility to supplies and didn’t have an item for a case, there would be lots of finger-pointing back and forth as we placed the blame on one another. We implemented the solution in collaboration with the supply chain and can now work together instead of working in silos. At the end of the day, we all want what is best for the patients and having the supplies to perform procedures effectively and efficiently. Ensuring patient safety is our number one priority.