How to Optimize Operating Room Supply Chain Management

It’s no secret OR staff are in high-stress positions. The lives of their patients are on the line, and even the smallest mistake has the potential to be catastrophic. This can lead to some frustrations for surgeons when the materials management department sends new supplies or equipment their way unannounced, even when outsiders might view it as an insignificant change. Stakes are high in the operating room and surgeons are used to their routine — even a new suction tip can be enough to throw them off during a procedure.

This is why some of the most crucial aspects of a dedicated OR Supply Chain Coordinator are communication and deep understanding of on-the-ground procedures. This builds trust with OR staff, so they don’t feel out of the loop or sabotaged by incoming equipment changes and gives them a say in decision making.

A perioperative supply chain program represents around 40% of total hospital supply expenditures on average, and its inventory value is usually the highest of all departments. Keeping the operating room (OR) supply chain efficient and standardized can be challenging at first glance but not impossible. One of the most effective ways to start optimizing OR Supply Chain management is by hiring a dedicated OR Supply Chain Coordinator who has a solid grasp of both daily OR procedures and products (and their variabilities).

Integrate Supply Chain into OR Staff

Traditionally, the responsibilities of managing OR inventory have bounced between Materials Management (MM), nursing staff, and OR staff. However, this model tends to result in communication breakdown — too many cooks in the kitchen, as they say. A lack of defined responsibilities among the parties often leads to blurred lines, resulting in miscommunication, wrong or missing equipment, and ultimately dissatisfaction for all parties involved.

Most MM staff are not embedded in the OR’s day-to-day operations, so they often lack valuable context regarding what type of equipment is needed. Nursing staff often have trouble filling this gap, especially when nursing staff vacancies are rising.

On the other hand, an OR Supply Chain Coordinator that is fully embedded into the OR staff can:

  • Fully understand products, uses, and their variabilities
  • Notify OR staff of anticipated changes in equipment ahead of time
  • Justify equipment changes through a deeper understanding of OR operations
  • Avoid being seen as an ‘outsider’ to the rest of the OR staff
  • Relieve nursing staff and inventory management so they can focus on patient care
  • Act as a cost-effective buffer between Supply Chain and OR staff
Labor costs for dedicated OR Supply Chain positions should range between 1% and 2%

Ideally, your OR Supply Chain Coordinator acts as the communication and oversight bridge that connects the supply chain program’s financial, clinical, and logistical aspects.

Outlining the Responsibilities of a Perioperative Supply Chain Coordinator

While the specific responsibilities of an OR Supply Chain Coordinator may differ based on each organization’s pain points, below are examples of primary duties:

  • Develop and maintain inventory par levels in collaboration with specialty team leaders and OR clinical manager(s)
  • Review stock item usage and adjust inventory accordingly
  • Process special orders as directed by OR specialty team leaders and OR clinical nurse manager
  • Assist with supply budget management/variance investigation and reporting
  • Short-term planning (staff scheduling, case-specific supply acquisition, new product evaluation, purchasing contract compliance)
  • Long-term planning (capital budget, OR Supply Chain staffing requirements, materials systems utilization)
  • Establish and monitor departmental supply flow performance.

Addressing OR Supply Shortages in Times of Crisis

Times of crisis (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) have profound impacts on supply chains, creating shortages across every industry. One of the significant benefits of having a dedicated OR Supply Chain Coordinator is their precise communication regarding out-of-stock equipment and potential alternatives. Operating rooms across the country are constantly asking, “which surgeries can we or can’t we support during a supply shortage?” and without constant communication from the top down, there may be no clear answers.

To OR staff, “just in time” means “just too late” when it comes to supplies. It’s always been the objective of MM to manage inventory at the lowest possible quantities in order to drive down costs. But during times of crisis, or when supplies are short industry-wide, supplies that arrive “just in time” are already too late, resulting in a breakdown of the supply chain and a drought of equipment. 

Even if equipment is delayed by one day, you’re accruing costs that may be unsustainable. According to The American Journal of Managed Care, 1 minute of downtime in the OR can cost over $100 per minute and, “services performed in the OR account for almost one-third of healthcare spending.” In this regard, a dedicated OR Supply Chain Coordinator will help your organization minimize costs during supply shortages.

Sullivan Healthcare Consulting: Knowing Where to Start

While acquiring an OR Supply Chain Coordinator may sound well and good, it may come as no surprise that bureaucracy slows progress; and there’s no exception here. The success of a perioperative supply chain program will require support from your organization’s administration, OR governance, OR management/service line management, and supply chain management.

Sullivan Healthcare Consulting is an “honest broker” among all parties that bridges gaps to help your healthcare organization become more efficient and reach its fullest potential. Your success is our success. 

Our extensive experience in perioperative consulting services will help your organization determine exactly how an OR Supply Chain Coordinator could improve your operations.  


Get in touch for a perioperative assessment today!

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