Medical Inventory Management

6 Hospital Supply Chain Management Best Practices

February 6, 2024 • 7 min read

Inventory and supply chain management is even more critical for hospitals than in other industries. After all, the supplies and equipment healthcare providers require are essential in treating patients. This article will discuss six best practices for hospital supply chain management.


Why is a hospital supply chain important?

In healthcare, the supply chain refers to an extensive network of systems, processes, and partners that work together to ensure the supplies, materials, and equipment hospitals need are manufactured, sold, and distributed to the organizations that require such inventory. Hospital supply chains are often complex and global, making them extra vulnerable to disruptions and delays. As a result, and especially since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more hospitals have emphasized the importance of a more transparent and optimized hospital supply chain.

This is no surprise. After all, if a hospital’s supply chain is compromised, shortages can impede the hospital’s ability to provide top-quality care quickly and on budget. And, in a worst-case scenario, hospitals facing severe supply chain issues may be forced to turn patients away.

To ensure a more secure and optimized hospital supply chain, consider implementing the following best practices:


1. Create a complete digital record of inventory needs

Today, most hospitals have digitized their inventory records. If your hospital still needs to do so, now is the time to audit all inventory, understand precisely what your hospital needs, and then record those needs on an inventory list.

Most hospitals stock tens of thousands of products, if not more. As a result, it’s virtually impossible for these organizations to utilize a manual inventory system. Spreadsheets are also an unusual choice, as they are prone to data corruption and human error. Most hospitals and hospital networks utilize medical inventory management software to understand and organize what inventory they need, how much they need, and where in-stock inventory is at any given date or time.

If you currently use a spreadsheet to manage your hospital’s inventory, you can bulk upload that data into inventory management software like Sortly. Before you upload, create a column that indicates from which vendor each inventoried item is purchased. This will help streamline your vendor management and supply chain transparency efforts, too.


2. Standardize what you order and when

Once your organization has created a digital inventory record, prioritize standardizing what you order and when from which vendors. If you’re using inventory management software like Sortly, you can generate a customized report to review all inventory items, sorted by vendor or supplier. 

Review this list and ensure you are satisfied with all suppliers’ performances, then produce a tightly managed vendor list across all locations. This will streamline procurement and also help with inventory control efforts. After all, it’s much easier to manage spending and inventory levels once the right stakeholders have a clear picture of how much inventory they need, how much they should be spending on it, from which vendors it should be ordered, and where that inventory needs to be at any given time.

Whatever standards you do set for ordering inventory, make sure you document them and communicate them to your team. Creating a standard operating procedure that articulates your organization’s reordering processes makes it much easier to train new employees and ensure all teams follow all instructions.

This standard operating procedure should include essential information about all inventory and vendors, including reorder points, safety stock, economic order quantity, and more. Remember that these numbers and figures can also be tracked as custom fields within Sortly. You can also set low stock alerts to inform the right people when a item’s current stock level falls too low. Such alerts can also be set for expiration dates and warranty end dates.

3. Boost supply chain transparency

As previously mentioned, hospital supply chains are particularly complex. As a result, it’s more important than ever for healthcare stakeholders to emphasize supply chain transparency. The more your organization knows about its supply chain partners, the easier it is for your hospital to communicate and collaborate with those parties. Transparency also makes it much easier to anticipate future challenges with your supply chain partners.


4. Strengthen relationships with vendors 

As you increase supply chain transparency, your organization can prioritize strengthening relationships with vendors and suppliers. Using customized reports from your inventory software, it should be easy for your organization to review which products are coming from which supplier and at what cost. 

You can also survey different departments to gather information about communicating with suppliers and whether suppliers deliver inventory on time and as promised. If you uncover any challenges with existing suppliers, work alongside those vendors to solve these problems or search for a replacement supplier you believe will perform better.

Strong supplier relationships can also give hospitals unprecedented insight into future supply chain challenges. Many suppliers have a pulse on supply and demand and an open line of communication with manufacturers. These additional insights may help you anticipate shortages and price hikes, protecting your hospital from supply chain volatility.


5. Practice inventory demand forecasting—and prepare for emergencies 

Your hospital should also practice inventory demand forecasting whenever possible. Chances are, your hospital already knows what inventory it needs to order on a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. Blending that knowledge with insights into medical trends and supply chain predictions can help your organization practice even better inventory control.

At the same time, perhaps no industry must expect the unexpected as much as health care. When practicing demand forecasting, it’s also wise for your hospital to reevaluate what inventory, supplies, materials, and equipment it keeps on hand for emergencies. 

Modern inventory management software can also help by reminding you when emergency inventory is set to expire. After all, if these items are locked away or kept off-site, they can easily fall into obsolescence. Use customized alerts and notifications to get reminded long before their expiration so you can cycle these items into everyday use at your hospital and refill your backstock with items that won’t expire for quite some time.


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6. Perform ongoing education and training

Regardless of how optimized your hospital’s supply chain management strategy is, it’s essential to continue educating and training employees and staff. Create a training program for new employees and set aside time to design a refresher program for established personnel. This is especially important because all good inventory management and supply chain management strategies change over time. As these strategies are refined, ensure you are updating standard operating procedures and providing training and retraining as needed. Using Sortly to manage inventory makes this type of training easy; it’s so simple and intuitive that your team can learn it in minutes.

Many hospitals also implement key performance indicators and benchmarks to ensure all departments and locations meet supply chain management goals. Setting standards makes it much easier for executives to determine which floors, departments, or locations may need extra support or resources.

Finally, because hospital networks can be vast and siloed, it’s wise to prioritize transparency and collaboration between departments and locations. From regular meetings to inventory software that can be accessed remotely across multiple locations, look for technology and tools that enable the collaboration your teams need to succeed.


About Sortly for hospital inventory optimization

Sortly inventory app is shown on a variety of devices.

Sortly is a top-rated inventory management software system designed to help hospitals keep track of their supplies, materials, and equipment, even across multiple locations. With its in-app barcode and QR code scanner, it’s never been easier for on-the-go employees to update inventory levels or learn more about an item. Plus, Sortly is a visual inventory management system, which means employees won’t just be looking at the name of a product but also a picture. This can help reduce human error during ordering.

Finally, Sortly helps hospitals automate some of the most tedious aspects of inventory management, from generating reports to reminding employees when it’s time to reorder a given item. Learn more about how hospitals and medical offices use Sortly and start your free trial today.