Tips to Improve Hospital Supply Room Efficiency

If you walk into the average hospital supply room in America today, you will likely see they have a very visible problem. Or should we say a visibility problem. And we’re not just talking about the tangible ones like products and supplies hidden behind cabinet doors, strewn on countertops or just generally in disarray but also things like hidden costs and time. Not only is this a detriment to supply chain managers, clinicians can also get ensnared by this issue while trying to provide quality care for their patients.

supply-chainIn this post, we’ll provide several tips for improving supply room efficiency by way of adopting lean methodology processes. This can be a great way to strike out on the journey with a comprehensive goal of improving the overall efficiency of the entire hospital supply chain.

An Incredible Journey

Remember, every journey begins with a first step. But as a former manager once told me, “You don’t eat an elephant all at once. First, start with a nibble on the toe!” So, to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew, we asked for the expertise of one of our veteran supply chain and logistics Project Managers, Alicia Sanders, to get us started. Proficient in lean methodologies, Alicia has both lead and assisted with many lean process improvement projects. With her guidance and efforts, several healthcare organizations have successfully improved supply room efficiency throughout their facilities – and not just the supply room nodes but also in tough areas such as perioperative services and OR suites.

Why Does it Matter?

As stated in the opening of this post, visibility is hugely important to managing the supply chain of any healthcare institution. Improving the healthcare supply chain will likely lower costs, boost revenue, and ultimately improve patient care. This can be in a number of ways and walking the halls of your operation can wield some low-hanging fruit. You just need to know what to look for to lead to those hidden benefits:

  • Organization: Make sure supplies are in the places your workers expect them to be. Be sure to do this in a way that is logical and easily recognizable
  • Tracking: It’s important to know what has been delivered and what hasn’t. Additionally, knowing what may be under-stocked, over-stocked, and eliminated contributes to having the right supplies, at the right time
  • Visibility: A highly-visible solution which allows for properly organized supplies will allow team members to be more efficient through reduced complexity and time-savings
  • Expiration: Having a cluttered system in place that lacks visibility and organization also makes it difficult to expose expired supplies

How to Increase Supply Room Efficiency

Without further ado, it’s time to get to the good stuff! Following are Alicia’s tips for improving the efficiency of hospital supply rooms.

Engage & Connect

engageIt’s important to reach out to staff and team members to not only get their feedback on initiatives planned but also to allow them to provide input for the areas of improvement. Sanders advises, “Always engage and connect with clinical staff and managers when attempting to improve supply room efficiency in their work areas.” Be sure to gather feedback from them in regards to:

  • Which supplies and at what quantities are needed for them to do their work appropriately
  • Which supplies are obsolete and need to be removed or deleted from your program entirely
  • Which supplies are missing that need to be incorporated in order to provide prompt and proper patient care

Gathering proper feedback from your team members is a great first stage to improving the efficiency of supply rooms, as it touches on several aspects the opportunities for improvement.

Execute a Rapid 5S Event

5s-cycleThink of this as spring cleaning. “Executing a rapid 5S event in the supply room will help eliminate waste, along with items no longer needed in that area. It will also make room to add any supplies which are missing, and gives nursing staff an opportunity to organize supplies in a manner that works for patient care.” Example: all Luer Lock Syringes are now in one location, in order by size, as opposed to being spread out in several locations.

Post 5S Event

Sanders goes on to say, “After holding the 5S event, get in the habit of checking supply rooms once a day. Doing so will help identify which supplies move too fast, too slow, or just right so adjustments can be made accordingly.” Maintaining appropriate par levels is key to an efficient replenishment model

A supply chain management team that practices this habit brings their hospital one step closer to keeping clinicians out of the supply chain process and doing the work they were meant to do. Reducing their time in supply rooms means they have more time to spend at the patient’s bedside providing care.

Implement a Kanban System

kanbanFor the utmost in efficiency improvement, Sanders recommends adopting the practice of Kanban. “Kanban really is the most efficient, reliable way to deliver supplies in a clinical setting.” Adapted from successful manufacturing and retail industries, Kanban is a visual replenishment system that helps ensure supplies are delivered to the right place, in the right quantity, at the right time. This process provides immediate, tangible, and measurable advances in lean growth, removing ambiguities and overcompensation of supply systems.

Two-bin Kanban systems, in particular the BlueBin Kanban System, tick all of the boxes when it comes to improvements in healthcare supply chain efficiency.

  • Organization: With a two-bin system supplies are kept in the places they’re expected to be and it’s easy to tell when stock is low with a system for replenishment. Daily checks and audits ensure long-term sustainability for the program. “We’re not looking for short-term fixes here. We want to adopt a solution which fits into the long-term goals of the organization to bring all of the supplies in order and which feeds our supply chain needs well into the future.”
  • Visibility: A visual replenishment system which allows for easily assessing the status of any area and identify issues at a glance with clearly defined standards. “Our system allows any employee or team member to be trained on and quickly learn the system,” adds Sanders. “We even have a certification program where people can earn their Blue Belt to become master BlueBin Kanban facilitators!”
  • Tracking: “Adding in a Daily Management System provides a dashboard and reports which only make Kanban even more powerful and successful,” says Sanders. “Plus, a proper system will allow you to scan and send orders directly to the manufacturer or distributor. This maintains a highly-scalable program without the needs of holding significant inventory.”
  • Expiration: Since patient safety is paramount, “Our Kanban system eliminates excess and obsolete supplies. Cutting the waste inherent in traditional supply replenishment allows clinical staff to focus on their patients instead of supplies management.” Putting patient safety as the top priority and following regulatory compliance is imperative for hospitals. A two-bin Kanban system rotates through inventory, mitigating the problem of expired supplies in supply rooms


Ultimately, improving the efficiency of your supply chain is going to benefit the entire organization. Who doesn’t want to save time, money, and energy? These tips should help any team to improve their overall efficiency. But the ultimate cheat code is the BlueBin Kanban system. A guaranteed way to maximize not only the efficiency of your hospital supply rooms but of the overall supply chain for healthcare supplies.

learn more about BlueBin Kanban

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