The importance of properly managing inventory so that  supplies for all phases of testing in your laboratory are available, accessible and in-date is critical, not only for providing quality patient care, but for the fiscal solvency of the laboratory, and  operational efficiency, customer service and staff morale.

The goals of any inventory control system should include:

  • Current inventory information
  • The ability to track and account for all inventory changes
  • Reorder points and adequate timeframes for timely replacement.
  • Monitoring the environment to ensure proper storage conditions are maintained

An effective control system should include the following:

Inventory Identification

Each item in your inventory should have an item number, a quantity, and a basic description which includes the vendor name and any other important details (such as lot number and expiration date).

Inventory Updates 

Pick an interval of time to regularly check inventory. The interval depends on how fast your supplies move.  Then compare what was purchased / acquired / received within a certain  time period (say, a week), as well as what was used during the same week. Your current inventory should be equal to whatever the count last week was, minus all usage for the week, plus the new inventory purchases.

Note:  Store updated documents in an organized manner.   Make sure to store your periodic inventory checks organized according to month. This way, if you need inventory data for a particular week, you can readily find it. It is also helpful in the case your accountant needs any information.

Maintain the Right Level of Inventory

Analyze usage data. The goal of inventory management is to keep up with demand, and this means having  enough inventory to meet  projected usage. If test systems or procedures have been in use for a period of time, use historical data to predict (approximately) what the future use will be.

Decide how much stock to order and keep. How much  you keep and how much you order depends on your level of usage,  the type and variety of supplies, and how much space you have available. If you have minimal space, look at previous usage and ensure you have slightly more than that to meet projected demand and for any unexpected situations. Always choose reliable suppliers who can get you your inventory quickly and on-time.  If you have a larger space, consider taking advantage of bulk discounts..

Choose a re-order point.   The goal is to always have enough inventory to meet  demand,    while not carrying too much inventory, as this ties up your capital and space unnecessarily. To know when to re-order, one approach is to specify a minimum level of stock, at which point you always re order. For supplies  that move quickly, or have the potential to move quickly set a higher minimum level. Arrange to have some “safety stock” to get you through shortages from unexpected   events.

The benefits of improved  inventory management include the improved reliability of the laboratory to deliver test results on time;  a more efficient laboratory operation with improved staff morale;  improved vendor relationships;  more accurate budgeting, and better cost control (reduced stock-outs and overstocks)

Originally published in ADVANCE for Administrators of the Laboratory Lab Quality Advisor Blog.