Manage Your IOL Inventory Efficiently

by Michael B. Rivers, MD |

Use technology to streamline workflow, document lens use and inventory

This article was originally published in the August 2018 edition of ASC Focus magazine. 

Ophthalmology surgeons are experts at multitasking. On a typical day, a busy ophthalmologist manages multiple back-to-back surgeries and might perform 30 or more cataract procedures. An efficient ophthalmology ASC operates as a well-oiled machine: Patients come in the front door with cloudy lenses; they are prepped for surgery by nursing staff, seen by the ophthalmologist, go through a routine surgery to implant or replace an intraocular lens (IOLs), and are then sent out the door with their sight happily improved.

What is not so smooth, however, is the management of inventory for the many types of IOLs used in cataract surgery along with the surgical packs needed during a procedure. Most ASCs manually update spreadsheets to track inventory. This process is time-consuming, inefficient and challenging to keep accurate. Since inventory is typically an ASC’s second highest overhead expense—highest being staff— improving inefficiencies with the help of technology is a must. Let’s look at the challenges of managing inventory and potential solutions.

Automate Lens Use Documentation and Inventory

More and more ophthalmologists are moving toward ASCs as they are efficient and offer excellent care without the hassles of a larger hospital setting. At any given time, a small ASC might have between 200 and 800 IOLs onsite, while a larger ASC might have as many as 4,000, all with different attributes. Like an assembly line, different power lenses must be fully stocked and documented. In addition, many surgeons have surgical pack preferences to inventory as well. With storage at a premium, having the right lens for the patient— and surgeon—is a balancing act that needs to be carefully orchestrated. This is often managed by manually updating a spreadsheet or using a practice management system, but neither of those processes is seamless.

Of course, there is an added layer of complexity if something other than a standard single vision lens is required, for example, if a patient opts to correct an astigmatism or prefers a multifocal lens. In that case, on top of efficient inventory management, coordination with the patient’s insurer to manage out-of-pocket expenses also falls on the ASC and the ophthalmologist.

In addition to tracking hundreds of IOLs and surgical packs weekly/ monthly, ASCs also must keep records of which patient received which lens to report to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Those records must be easily accessible in the rare case of a recall so affected patients can be contacted.

ASC nurses wear multiple hats, inventory manager being just one of many. They prep the patient, fill out the paperwork, answer the patient’s questions and act as the “front desk” to keep track of appointments and inventory. Without adequate technology, ASC nurses often rely on spreadsheets, paper and pen, and monthly inventory audits to manually keep track. This is inconvenient and could lead to inaccuracies.

Technology can help solve many of these challenges by streamlining workflows and automatically documenting lens use and inventory, which can help decrease the burden on nurses and staff while helping to increase operational efficiencies.

What Should an Ophthalmology ASC Inventory Management System Look Like?

Right out of the gate, an automated inventory management solution can improve ASC workflow in many ways. As easy as scanning the barcode of an IOL or surgical pack, a digital inventory management system can record lens specifications and update surgical documentation along with the patient’s electronic medical record (EMR). If the system detects an issue or a shortage of lenses needed for an upcoming surgery, an automatic flag can be sent to the staff to reorder.

With a typical operation lasting only five to eight minutes, speed is important at an ophthalmic ASC, and cumbersome technology is not an option. For a busy cataract surgeon, it is quite common to work between two operating rooms. While performing an operation in room A, nurse staff preps the next patient in room B. Then, while operating in room B, the next patient is prepped in room A. It is a constant back-and-forth leaving little time for delay or error.

Therefore, adopting an ASC inventory management system platform is a must, and easily customizable workflows are needed to conform to unique schedules. A well-designed surgical planning and inventory software can automatically create preop, operative and postop reports for the circulating nurses and surgeon. Data filled out in the preop report is automatically populated in the operative report so that it is ready for the surgeon to review and sign immediately post-surgery. The inventory used that day is automatically tracked and reporting taken care of on a per-patient basis.

A data-based inventory management system can help streamline workflows, and having a clear overview of ordering trends and an up-to-date inventory can help staff identify items that might be over- or understocked, as well as track expiration dates and meet FDA documentation regulations.

How ASCs Can Benefit in the Long Run

Implementing an inventory management system that interfaces directly with your ophthalmology electronic health record (EHR) system makes it easy to have all patient and practice data in one place and help minimize inventory and associated costs. Taking that a step further, by capturing structured data, an inventory management system can allow physicians to monitor trends over time, for example, which IOLs are used most often. It also can help physicians analyze which lenses have the best outcomes for patients presenting with different conditions. Ultimately, this can help physicians be more confident in their treatment plans and provide a higher quality of patient care.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), roughly 24.4 million Americans had cataracts in 2010, and that number is projected to grow to 50.2 million by the year 2050, making the importance of efficient inventory tracking technology a growing need.

Streamlining the inventory management process can help ease the burden of paperwork and stress of manually monitoring IOL inventory. It also can create healthier and happier physicians and nurses in the ophthalmology ASC setting.

Michael B. Rivers, MD

Michael B. Rivers, MD

Director, EMA Ophthalmology

Dr. Michael B. Rivers is the Director of EMA Ophthalmology. In this role, he helps Modernizing Medicine evolve the ophthalmology platform by combining his years of experience as a board-certified ophthalmologist and retina surgeon with his expertise implementing and using the EMA EHR system at the Retina Group of Washington (RGW). Michael speaks with physician users, listens to their needs and communicates them to the development, customer success and other teams at Modernizing Medicine. 

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