Tools for managing inventory

Software makes managing injectables less time and labor intensive.


For many ophthalmology offices, the use of injections has become commonplace. However, that has created the challenge of not only storing, but more importantly, tracking a large number of vials of medication for patients—a task that generally falls into the hands of several key ophthalmic staff members. For many, the use of automatic inventory systems has made a tremendous difference in streamlining the process—while also decreasing the risk of errors.

Put simply, inventory management systems allow users to view the inventory of injectables at any time and for any location of the practice—and to keep track of what is coming in and being used.

Jane Palmer, practice administrator for Pennsylvania Retina Specialists in Camp Hill, PA, says that she can remember tracking injectables manually when the practice first started offering them. That “pen and paper system” is one that she’d never want to go back to.

“It was just really problematic,” she recalls. “At the end of the day it was difficult to reconcile inventory and make sure that everything matched up correctly. It was also incredibly time consuming and there was a lot of risk for human error.”

In 2012, the practice was an early adopter of PODIS (Physician Office Drug Inventory System, Amerisource-Bergen) and Ms. Palmer says that they’ve grown with the system.

“Dealing with specialty pharmacies is a major challenge in our area and we must have a way to track that we are using the right drug for the right patient,” adds Ms. Palmer. “As it becomes increasingly complex, I’m not sure how that would even be done manually without a huge margin for error. You would constantly need to be checking the notes in patients’ records and hope that they aren’t missed.”

But with an inventory management system, everything can be seen. For example, practices can keep track of expiration dates. If a particular drug in the refrigerator is close to expiration, a pop-up will alert the staff, says Ms. Palmer.

Vera Watkins, RN, CNOR, CHA, CHCO, OHCC, CCRC, chief clinical officer of the Retina Specialty Institute in Pensacola, Fla., says that using a system has made it possible for the practice to fulfill its daily mission. The practice utilizes IAM (Intelligent Asset Management, PYA Analytics).

“Our mission is to improve the quality of life of our patients by saving sight—and in order to do that, we need to procure an ever-increasing amount of expensive injectables,” says Ms. Watkins. “As we’ve done that, an inventory management system has become an essential tool for me so that I have closed-loop accountability for the complete lifecycle of each and every vial.”

A scalable system

It has also been imperative that the system is scalable so that Ms. Watkins can see what is happening across the practice’s satellite locations, as there are 13 in multiple states.

“It puts all of us on the same page—we’re all looking at the same data as part of the cloud-based system,” Ms. Watkins explains. “In minimal time, I’m able to communicate with all of the practices and manage everything centrally. Plus, all of the departments work together instead of operating in a silo.”

Ms. Palmer agrees.

“With multiple locations, we often have to transfer drugs to different offices,” she says. “The system will create an open transfer alert that allows us to remain cognizant so that this doesn’t get overlooked. If medications are not being tracked when they leave the office, there is a big window of opportunity for error.”

Stephanie Collins, COO, of Austin Retina Associates in Texas, says that even the ability to track a recall seems overwhelming without an inventory management system these days. Ms. Collins—who uses USRetina—says that locating any vials associated with a recall is significantly simplified with an inventory management system that can tell her exactly where everything is across the 17-location practice.

“The alerts that you can set up are invaluable,” she adds. “You can have alerts set-up for diagnoses, for the 28-day rule, or for patients who are switching medications, just to give some examples. So, if a staff member is switching the medication, the system might alert you to make sure it was done intentionally—and not that the wrong medication was grabbed. This is all very important for staff who are constantly running around and incredibly busy at these large practices.”

Inventory management system providers

Besse Medical/Amerisource Bergen
West Chester, OH

Denver, CO

Billing and finances

Accurate and timely billing for administered medications is also simplified with the use of an inventory management system.

“From the billing side, the use of an inventory management system helps ensure that a medication was billed for if it was dispensed,” says Ms. Collins. “Ensuring that all outstanding payables are accounted for—and whether there are any missing medications in there—is a huge manual process using Excel spreadsheets. But with the data from an inventory management system, the process is streamlined.”

Ms. Watkins adds that it “validates and simplifies accounting.”

“Combined with RFID tracking cabinets, one can check the total unit count and total cost of the unit on any given day—both in real time as well as retrospectively,” she says.

For Pennsylvania Retina Specialists, Ms. Palmer says that the system’s easy interfacing with their practice management software has also been helpful in terms of billing.

“Reports are run every day that let us know which payments were posted for which medications,” she adds. “It also lets you know if outstanding money is still owed. One of the biggest financial risks for a practice is high-end medications that are not getting paid for, which is another reason I simply can’t imagine not having this system to rely on.”

A valuable safety net

If the implementation of inventory management systems could be summed up in one word, it might be “accountability.” But those who have used these systems say that should make staff feel comforted as opposed to concerned.

“The staff at ophthalmology practices are incredibly busy, but when you can take out the risk of human error by automating the process, you mitigate the risk to the staff,” Ms. Watkins says.

“Mistakes are going to happen, but an inventory management system provides a safety net of sorts and allows all staff to identify any issues in real time and make the correction,” adds Ms. Collins. “This works out in everyone’s favor.” OP