Scanning and the Medical Supply Chain

September 25, 2020

3 minute read

Grocery stores use their barcodes. Items are scanned at each step as they make their way to customers. Scanning simplifies inventory management for grocers, because everything is tracked. And ultimately, shoppers benefit. When there is a food recall, manufacturers notify distributors within hours, and because items were scanned, retailers can pull items from shelves within hours by scanning items’ UPC barcodes and determining whether the lot is affected by the recall.

The food industry has been scanning its items for over 40 years. Yet in healthcare, where accurate inventory management and fast recall notifications are critical, hospitals continue to face structural challenges in scanning medical devices.

Why is scanning medical supplies valuable?

As in the food industry, scanning is immediately valuable because it enables inventory tracking. For example, items can be scanned at receipt and easily incremented and decremented from inventory. Items can also be scanned at point of use. If a hospitals enterprise resource planning (ERP) and electronic health record (EHR) systems are interfaced, then that means data about an item like an implant can automatically be populated into the patient’s health record at the point of use. For example, an implant’s UDI can automatically be populated in the patient record, which reduces human error and represents a significant step forward in recall management.

How does the scanning work?

Groceries have UPCs; medical devices have UDIs. UDIs are required by FDA on most medical supplies in both barcode and human-readable plain-text formats.

As shown above, the UDI has two distinct components, the UDI-DI, which uniquely identifies the device, and the UDI-PI, which includes the serial number, use by date, and lot information. Scanning the full UDI at point of use can pull all these data into a patient record, in addition to tracking in the ERP.

What are the current challenges to implementing scanning?

Not every device has a UDI, but many do. The FDA’s Global Unique Device Identifier Database currently has over 2.3 million items, and though FDA delayed implementation of Class 1 device UDI requirements, thousands of new SKUs are still added to GUDID every month.

Given that some devices don’t have barcode and others are mislabeled or have conflicting information on the label, the scan failure rate can be high. Furthermore, scanned data are most actionable when they are mapped to additional data points, connected to the ERP, and there is an interface between the ERP and EHR. Each of these steps requires updating time, effort and updated processes.

However, new software is making it easier to begin meaningfully scanning at hospitals and health systems of all sizes. Like the grocery supply chain, the medical supply chain and patients alike stand to benefit tremendously from implementing scanning. And the data are increasingly available to enable it.

Please reach out to us if you have any questions about scanning or would like to discuss your current scanning-related goals.