The term ‘logistics’ in healthcare is an interesting and commonly used concept. Depending on your hospital’s involvement, it can either add value or be viewed as a burden to staff and other users of the facility.
In its broadest sense, logistics is ‘having the correct people, goods and services at the correct place at the correct time.’ It is seen in many aspects of the hospital – from staff and patients to goods, consumables, information and waste – the managing of which can have a huge impact on operational processes.
In the retail industry, understanding and optimising logistics is crucial to securing revenues. For hospitals, it often – understandably – falls by the wayside in favour of ensuring patient care is the best that it can be. But any mishap in hospital processes ultimately has an influence on the outcome of care in a hospital.
Getting the basics right
So how exactly can a good logistics strategy help enhance the healthcare environment? The first step is to get the fundamentals right.From my experience, there are key areas which should help enhance logistics in each hospital:
- Quality processes – clear processes should be put in place from day one. If we can help ensure that doctors and patients are both where they should be at exactly the right time, the patient experience will inevitably improve and quality care provided. From this example we can see that these processes go beyond the patient/doctor interaction to all aspects of planning, care giving, measuring and checking resources and procedures used in the hospital.
- Operational outcomes – lowering operational costs is paramount for all hospitals, particularly in today’s landscape in the UK. By tracking and tracing stock, for example, it provides a powerful tool to much easier control stock levels and the subsequent space optimisation. The effect becomes even greater with the lowering of stock on hand, in turn reducing the amount of stock that goes to waste if out of date.
- Design – the logistics design is crucial for staff, patients and goods inside the hospital. With good initial planning and a supporting design, processes can be better optimised, and quality of service enhanced, creating a more efficient and enjoyable work environment for staff and patients.
- Wayfinding – without this, it would be extremely difficult for patients and visitors to find their way around the hospital. Next to digital solutions now offering much more than the traditional sign, the patient experience can be enhanced even further through the use of apps on your mobile phone, light and colour to ensure that their journey throughout the hospital is optimised.
Opt for advanced technology
On top of these basics, new technologies coming into play can reap huge benefits in terms of optimising logistics.
Take the electronic pharmacy, for example. Not only providing a smaller footprint and reduced staff costs, it also delivers better outcomes and fewer mistakes by picking prescriptions with almost 100% accuracy. Operating 24 hours a day, robots such as this offer significantly reduced operational expenditure, even with the initial capital expense.
One hospital which is already using robots with huge success is Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. Robots transport goods, for example linen, around the hospital which means that staff are free to spend more time supporting patients and their families. Logistically, this is an example of different ways to handle goods in the hospital, leading to innovative ways to provide logistic support 24 hours a day whilst freeing up staff to do the work that they are hired for; providing quality care.
RFID technology is another technology which can also vastly improve stock management in a hospital and reduce unnecessary waste.
But it’s not just technology where improvements can be made. The standardisation of processes and stock can bring distinct benefits to improving logistics.
Let’s take the example of an implant in a specific operation. If all doctors in a hospital use a different supplier for each implant they use, this could cause a logistical nightmare. Not only will stock levels rise, so will the cost of stock. Yet at the same time, the turnover of stock will go down.
In an ideal world, the hospital would have one manufacturer’s product in stock at any given time. But even if you can reduce 10 products to just four, not only are you streamlining stock levels, but you also enhance your purchasing power with manufacturers, and consequently save costs.
If we revisit the retail example, it’s clear that there is huge opportunity for hospitals if they can shift their focus towards managing and coordinating resources more efficiently.
And particularly as we enter what could be a very challenging winter for the NHS in the UK, it becomes even more important to ensure that resources and staff are managed appropriately as the number of people admitted to hospital is likely to rise.
Inevitably, the best stage at which to implement this sort of action plan and technology is at the design stage – whether for a new build or renovation – but this is often not possible. Ultimately, implementing a logistics strategy at any stage could help improve the quality of service provided to patients, whilst lowering operational costs.
Whether that’s by allowing a nurse to focus on her key areas of expertise while an automated guided vehicle (AGV) collects some goods she requires, or by installing RFID technology in your stock room to minimise wastage, a strong logistics strategy is key to optimising your hospital.