Healthcare News & Insights

Supply chain management: What hospitals can learn from ant farms

Looking for a way to root out inefficiencies in your hospital’s supply chain? Take a cue from the lowly ant farm.

163831973Not just a child’s toy anymore, ant farms have a lot to teach hospital execs about organizational structure, according to Shahid Shah, healthcare IT specialist and writer of The Healthcare IT Guy blog.

Supply chain issues can have detrimental consequences for a hospital, whether there’s too much of a certain medication ordered – or not enough to go around until the next order is due to ship.

Without a proper supply chain management system in place, facilities run the risk of wasting money on duplicate supply orders. Worse, patients’ health could be put into jeopardy because of a shortage.

The ants go marching

As a starting point for improving your hospital’s supply chain system, looking at your facility as an ant farm can actually be helpful, Shah said in a blog post.

Here’s how:

In an ant farm, observers can watch through transparent panes of glass the precision with which ants conduct their daily activities, working together to get things done.

The same should be true of a hospital supply chain. Your supply chain management system should be easy to access. All “worker ants” involved in your hospital’s supply chain must be able to communicate with each other, and everyone must have access to the information so they can work together effectively.

Electronic systems must be user-friendly enough to allow staff to easily place orders, with clear alerts and notifications that will let them know when a product or medication is running low. The system should also compile data about patterns in your hospital’s supply chain and make it easy for staffers to view this info.

Smart business decisions

Just like ants can easily see where they need to go in an ant farm, staffers should have clear access to the inner workings of the supply chain. This info should be seamlessly included in daily workflow processes so staffers can make smart business decisions as they do their day’s tasks.

And no ant colony can function properly without a queen, who firects the ants’ actions. This is the same for a hospital. Execs must constantly analyze the supply chain, looking at key data points that are most important to their hospitals, and come up with rules to guide staffers’ decisions.

When developing supply chain guidelines, it’s critical to focus on how to prevent problems from bogging down the workflow for clinical staff – and to have a plan of action if issues arise. That way, workers can do their jobs knowing they’re fulfilling the correct role and understanding what they can do to fix errors.

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