How to resolve seven common storage challenges in your ASC

When it comes to storage in the ASC space, it’s all about achieving balance. Whether you have too little space, too much (highly unlikely), or just the right amount, it’s all about maximizing what you have.

Too much space can lead to an overabundance of inventory. Too little space encourages you to be creative in using that space and in using your vendor partners to help by providing JIT options. Whatever your situation is, there are some solutions to help you better manage your space and your inventory. 

No dedicated space

Some facilities don’t have designated areas for storing bulk and sterile supplies. They are forced to store product in hallways, stairwells, and office space; anywhere they can find some vacant space.  Frequently, patient care and procedure areas are converted into storage locations, like patient bays in post-op or even an OR suite that isn’t in use. In my experience, using patient care areas can severely limit your patient throughput when activity levels rise and using hallways or office space can create issues with accrediting groups or the fire marshal.  These multiple storage locations are also frustrating for staff who are trying to find items quickly, especially per diem or agency staff.

If you have no dedicated supply storage space, you may not have designated equipment storage either. This means that equipment is taking up a lot of space that could be used for storage. Take a close look at that equipment and eliminate anything you aren’t using anymore or anything that is broken or obsolete. This can free up valuable floor space. Using JIT deliveries from your prime vendor and consignment for some implants and specialty devices can also reduce needed storage space.

Too little space

Your facility may have designated space, but it simply isn’t large enough. Newer technology, along with the supplies needed for those technologies, have increased our need for space. As more and more procedures migrate to the ambulatory market, the scramble for space will increase. This cramped space can lead to excess clutter and increase the potential for obsolete, expired and damaged products. In addition, clutter makes it harder to keep your facility clean and could interfere with keeping cases on schedule. 

Consider the following: Make sure your storage bins or totes are the appropriate size for the size and amount of the product you need to store. Oversize and large bins take up more space and promote a “fill to capacity” mentality. This can increase your costs and inventory levels. Stacking bins or adjusting shelf height can help you use all available vertical space. You can also free up space in your sterile supply general storage area by keeping specialty items in specialty spaces. For example, if you perform eye procedures in a specific room, store corresponding supplies there. And don’t overlook wall space as a storage option. Sutures, blades, and shavers fit nicely in acrylic boxes on an open wall. Items are easy to visualize, and shelf space becomes available. Positioning devices can also be stored on walls for easy access and organization.

Too much stuff

If the number of products you’re storing makes it difficult to find what you need, then your inventory is too large. The time you spend looking for supplies could be better spent optimizing your supply chain and enabling clinicians to dedicate that time back to patient care. 

Start by asking yourself these questions: Are you paying for rental storage for obsolete equipment or items you don’t need? Is obsolete equipment taking up space onsite? Are doctors who no longer practice at your facility leaving items behind, equipment, instruments, or supplies? Or do you no longer support certain specialties but still store supplies for them? If so, then your four options are to sell, loan, donate or throw the items away.  

Staff can’t find items

Time spent looking for products could be better spent elsewhere. In my experience, supply management can make a significant impact on your ability to keep OR schedules on time, so organizing and streamlining your supply chain can improve case set up times, reduce clutter, and improve staff and surgeon morale. 

Best practices I’ve found to address this issue include putting products in bins so you can see them clearly at a glance, labeling containers and shelves, informing all relevant staff members when you move a product to a new location and organizing and storing products by category in the same location.

Regulatory issues

Improperly stored products can get the attention of regulatory authorities and create issues during surveys of your facility, especially if these storage issues can put staff and patient safety at risk. In advance of your next regulatory inspection, conduct a mock survey to help identify potential regulatory challenges with how you store products. Do a walkthrough of the complete process from receiving products to putting them on the shelves. 

From my perspective, you should look for products stored too close to the ceiling and/or next to fire sprinklers, products stored on the floor, fluids stored above sterile supplies and products blocking access to patient areas and equipment. Also, do you have clearly defined traffic patterns for clean and used supplies so that the latter won’t contaminate the former?

Ergonomic issues

When supplies are difficult to reach and handle, it can expose staff members to potential injury and can damage supplies. For example, if you store heavy supplies or instruments on high shelves, you might damage the item or the CSR wrap as you remove the tray.  Contamination or damage can delay procedures and cost you valuable time. 

If some products are stored out of easy reach, I recommend configuring your storage to protect staff and products. Store heavier products on shelves that are between chest to hip height. Place lighter items on top and bottom shelves. Step stools can make it easier for staff to reach products on the higher shelves.

Distance from point of use

When products aren’t located close to their point of use, the resulting inefficiency can increase case turnaround time and potentially impact patient outcomes. Conversely, keeping products close at hand can save time, support patient safety and help improve staff and clinician satisfaction.

It’s common for ASCs and surgical hospitals to have supplies scattered in several places. Work toward consolidating these inventories so that each product is in just one place. Also, you can use specialty or implant carts when available, but resist the temptation to have a cart for everything. This can add complexity to your workflow without adding value and take up valuable space.

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