Managing PPE – During 2020 and Beyond


The safety of our front line healthcare workers shared the spotlight this year, as the urgent need to respond to the pandemic and care for growing numbers of patients soared. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was leading news across the U.S., as provider organizations frantically worked to determine whether they had enough supplies, where all their supplies were located, and if more were needed, where they would find vendors who could help. Although in most cases replenishment sources have been identified, questions remained as to how we’d prepare for the immediate months and the future.

If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we need to enhance our efforts around supply and resource management. Just-in-time management – thought for years to be the holy grail of healthcare supply inventory – left organizations short-supplied and without necessary replenishment for PPE and other materials. On the other hand, most facilities don’t have the storage space to overstock supplies, and generally we’d all acknowledge it’s not the right way to manage inventory due to cost, loss and often, product expirations.

We saw that in many cases, facilities knew they had the supplies, but where they were actually stored presented some mysteries, as items had been put away without good tracking or visibility.

As we consider all these lessons and scenarios, let’s look at what’s really important for our organizations now. How can we improve the way we source, receive, store, and track materials to future-proof our supply chains?

  1. Lose the clipboard – Manual processes can’t meet the needs of today’s supply chain. Manual is too labor intensive, but most importantly, will leave gaps in important data you need.
  2. Organize your physical locations – Using only a central storage location? Perfect. Make sure the physical location is set up efficiently, with barcode labels for every item. Include the item name, description and even par level. Right size your bins to make items easier to put-away and then pull. (This recent case study provides a good discussion of organizing physical locations.)
  3. Use electronic requisitioning – Make it easy for those requesting supplies to quickly find items and complete their req. The right system will have customizable templates that let your internal buyers instantly request frequently purchased items – saving time and helping ensure approved formulary items.
  4. Managing pop-up locations – Many facilities noted they had created pop-up storage locations – cabinets, closets, carts, just about any space they could find – but these locations were difficult to manage. By using an electronic procurement and inventory solution with barcode scanning, it’s easy to create a new location and assign inventory to it. But also be sure to scan items being added to / removed from that location, so you have visibility to all supplies, and an accurate total for your facility or nation-wide organization.
  5. Receive incoming items – It’s never been more important to know what’s inside your organization – and what back-ordered items must be managed. Receiving items, putting them away in specific locations and tracking usage makes the difference. By quickly receiving incoming supplies (scanning makes this fast and easy), you’re feeding your inventory system the data it needs to instantly flag areas where you might run short. Receiving helps you proactively manage back-orders, and focus your efforts on specific products or categories.
  6. Track consumption – Everything you pull gets scanned as “consumed.” Everything. It’s how you’ll know what you’ve got and what you need. If you track consumption, a system like Envi can instantly show you where you’re at risk and help keep you on track for replenishment.
  7. Data is your BFF – Data is the lifeblood of your supply chain – especially as we supply our front line healthcare works with the PPE they need to stay safe. Feeding your electronic system with data means you’ll always know what you have, where it is, what your consumption history is (and how your trends are changing), and how to plan for the future.

While we couldn’t have predicted the strain the healthcare supply chain would experience in 2020, organizations with electronic inventory and procurement systems in place have had better experiences, because they know what supplies are inside their organizations – and where they may have risk. Your clinical team is counting on you. Make this the year you put down the clipboard and pick up the scanner, and the year you take the right steps to future-proof your supply chain.