Combat 7 Sources of Waste in the Healthcare Industry with Barcode Labeling

25 November 2014

How barcode labeling enables lean manufacturing in the healthcare industry

You may have heard of the term "lean manufacturing" as it relates to manufacturing companies, but what about the effects it can have on the healthcare industry, and the role barcode labeling can play?

The basis of lean manufacturing revolves around identifying processes that add value, while eliminating waste or any element of a process that is not value-added. Within the healthcare industry, producing a product or providing a service involves many complex processes that involve specific steps that must be taken in order, at the correct time, to create value for the patient. While the patient is the primary customer, these processes also impact internal customers, such as physicians, nurses, managers, insurers and other team members. To avoid waste, each step in a process must create value; consistently produce the desired result; avoid unnecessary searching, waiting, or delay; and must be flexible and flow smoothly. 

The first step towards lean operations within a healthcare facility is identification of the key processes that support products or services, such as a physical examination, surgery or emergency room visit. This begins with a full analysis of the process as it is, which involves stating the value to the customer and identifying non-value-added or wasteful steps, such as working significantly faster or harder than usual due to poor organization and planning. Next, it must be determined how to eliminate this waste to reduce overhead costs, boost productivity and decrease errors.

Lean manufacturing originated from the Toyota Production System, which aimed to reduce "The Seven Wastes," which identify resources that are commonly wasted, to improve overall customer value. Below, we review each source of waste and discuss how barcode labeling can reduce these sources to enable lean manufacturing in the healthcare industry.

1. Overproduction of medical supplies and devices
Overproduction of medical supplies and devices leads to excess inventory carrying costs. Implementing a barcode labeling system that can integrate with your business systems (such as your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system or Warehouse Management System (WMS)) will allow real-time data collection and medical supplies inventory tracking information to help optimize processes, increase productivity and profitability. As a result, supply order accuracy can increase and unnecessary manual processes can be eliminated, which will in turn reduce labor costs and waste. Staff can work more efficiently with fewer resources and reallocate the time they had previously saved for patients.

2. Waiting for a work cycle to be completed
Valuable time can be wasted waiting for the next step in the process, and delays of this kind could have severe implications in the healthcare industry. Barcode labeling systems enable management to enforce standardized rules and design processes so the workflow is continuous and consistent, and there is no wasted time in between steps.

3. Transporting unnecessary medical supplies
This involves unnecessary movement of materials from one site to another, which wastes time and effort -- an example of this could be bringing different sizes of medical instruments into the operating room to see which one fits best. By implementing a barcode labeling system and scanning the patient's wristband, it will be clear what supplies are required based on the patient's medical history. Eliminating extra trips to gather supplies will save time and labor.

4. Unnecessary motion when searching for equipment
Unnecessary movements that do not add value, such as an employee walking around a facility to locate specific medical supplies, are considered waste. The employee may not see this as waste since the goal is worthy - the patient needs the supplies - but the time spent searching for the right items could be better utilized doing a different task that adds immediate value. When valuable resources like time, money and labor are wasted, the overall value of the process decreases. Naturally, as waste is eliminated, costs are reduced and quality is improved. A barcode labeling system can help you logically organize work areas and strategically position supplies so that you can quickly identify where things are located and ensure that they are the correct item for the task at hand.

5. Over-processing
When more work is being performed than what is required to deliver value to the customer, waste arises. This can include rework, reprocessing or storage that occurs due to overproduction, excess inventory or defects. Implementing lean manufacturing principles by using barcode labeling software for support areas such as registration, scheduling, pharmacy, medical records and billing can help to avoid over-processing in other areas.

6. Excess inventory
Carrying supply quantities above and beyond what is immediately needed to deliver value to the customer creates waste, as it puts the supplies at risk of going obsolete or expiring. Creating barcode labels to track inventory can support a Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory strategy by enabling staff to order supplies only when they are needed. This also reduces costs by eliminating the need for vast amounts of storage space, and also limits non-valued-added processes like walking and searching for inventory. With a clear and logical work environment, staff can continue to reduce waste in their daily operations and deliver the best value to the customer.

7. Defects
Any medical device or supply that is deemed defective and needs to be scrapped or reworked is considered waste. This can also relate to defective processes that lead to critical mistakes such as incorrect medication administration, which could potentially be fatal. There are many items within a healthcare facility that must be identified and tracked to ensure safety and provide value to the customer, such as employee ID badges, medical files, medical devices, patient wristbands, medication labels, lab sample tracking and so on. Generally, the process of inventory and patient management requires users to gather a plethora of information and manually enter it into some sort of system, which raises the risk of human error. Barcode labeling software can create barcode labels that identify and track these critical elements and can integrate with your business systems to greatly reduce this risk and increase efficiency.

Implementing lean principles within a healthcare organization requires change management, which can be a challenging process. In order for lean manufacturing to be successful within the healthcare industry, behaviors must be changed. Effective change management requires leaders and top management to be informative, supportive and encouraging of the process. Using lean principles, staff, providers and patients in various healthcare organizations have continuously improved or redesigned processes to eliminate waste, reduce workloads and rework, and create a better-quality result. In a clear and logical work environment, staff can continue to reduce waste and deliver the best experience to the customer.

With effective change management, healthcare organizations can easily and cost-effectively integrate barcode labeling software into existing business processes to support lean principles. Whether your organization's ultimate goal is streamlining patient management, controlling medical supply inventory levels, tracking documents or managing medical records, barcode labeling software can help increase efficiencies and control.

About the Author
Nick Recht is the Enterprise Product Manager at
TEKLYNX Americas, where he strives to use technology to add value and create efficiencies in manufacturing and business environments. Nick holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with a focus in Managing Information Systems (MIS) from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Nick can be reached at 414-837-4765 or via email at nick_recht@teklynx.com.

About TEKLYNX:

TEKLYNX International is the world’s leading developer of barcode labeling software solutions, and the only provider to offer barcode labeling software subscription licenses. More than 600,000 companies in 120 countries rely on TEKLYNX integrated software solutions for supply chain automation, regulation compliance, warehouse management, shipping and receiving, inventory control, and asset management. TEKLYNX is a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Oracle Gold Partner, has internal GS1 Certified Barcode Professionals and invests to develop SAP Certified solutions. TEKLYNX barcode labeling software is CFR Part 11 compliant, and is capable of printing GS1 and HIBC required to generate the AIDC technology labels for UDI compliance, with support for thermal and thermal transfer printers. TEKLYNX is headquartered in France with operations in the United States, Europe, Japan, China, and Singapore. For more information on how TEKLYNX can help organizations in the medical device and healthcare industry, visit http://www.teklynx.com.

References:

1.  http://leanmanufacturingtools.org/77/the-seven-wastes-7-mudas/

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