When a patient goes to an ophthalmology surgery center for cataract surgery, ideally the facility will be using an to ensure that the right IOL implant is on hand to replace the natural lens or lenses that will be removed during the procedure.
However, many ophthalmology surgery centers still rely on manual inventory management processes to have the right IOLs ready for patients when they arrive for surgery. The better way—and one that creates additional clinical, financial and operational value—is an automated inventory management system that uses technology to order, track and pay for IOLs implanted in patients during cataract procedures.
Why the volume of IOLs makes manual inventory practices obsolete
The volume, sizes and brands of IOLs that ophthalmology surgery centers have in stock at any point in time are determined by a number of factors:
- Historical surgical volume
- Historical sizes of IOLs used
- Payer mix and medical benefits of patient base
- Physician IOL brand preferences
- Patient IOL brand preferences
As a result, a small- to mid-size ophthalmology surgery center may have 400 to 800 IOLs onsite from five or six different manufacturers. A large surgery center may carry 3,000 to 4,000 IOLs. Most surgery centers buy IOLs on consignment. They fill their shelves free of charge from manufacturers and pay for the artificial lenses they use on patients.
A surgery center checks its IOL inventory to see if it has the right artificial lenses ready for the next day’s procedures. With so many IOLs in stock, it can be a daunting task to do manually. Someone from the practice must have the next day’s surgery schedule, walk into the lens room and check the patients and caseload against the IOLs in stock. If an IOL size or type is missing, it has to be ordered immediately from a manufacturer or borrowed from another surgery center.
That same person will likely also check the expiration dates of the IOLs in stock as he or she reconciles the demand with supply for the following day’s cataract procedures. That person may be physically marking IOLs that will expire next month and need to be pulled and used before other artificial lenses. Using little red stickers to mark soon-to-be-expired IOLs is a common practice.
Then, after a set of IOLs is used on a particular day, someone from the surgery center must call or fax all the different manufacturers and re-order the IOLs to replenish the practice’s inventory.
When the three processes—preparing inventory, checking expiration dates and re-ordering IOLs—are done manually, it’s time consuming. Mistakes and errors are also more likely. Invariably, someone writes down the wrong IOL serial number or the wrong IOL size. That can delay orders, cause inaccurate payments or postpone surgeries.
How automated IOL inventory management overcomes those challenges
A better approach is to automate those processes through technology. All it takes is a barcode scanner integrated with a web-based inventory management application. Each IOL comes in a sterile box with an individual barcode from the manufacturer. By scanning the barcode when an IOL is consigned and when it’s used, the application can track the entire life cycle of each individual IOL.
By integrating the application with the surgery center’s other health IT systems, the practice will know:
- When an IOL was consigned
- The size and brand of the IOL
- When the IOL expires
- When the IOL was used
- The identity of the patient who received the IOL
- Whether the practice paid the manufacturer for the IOL
The surgery center has the capability of running standard or customized inventory reports. The reports can tell the practice immediately what’s in stock, what’s going to expire and whether it has the right IOLs onsite for the next day’s patients. No more walking into a room, counting lenses and putting stickers on boxes.
The benefits to centers of adopting automated IOL inventory management
This automated approach to inventory management can yield a host of clinical, financial and operational benefits for an ophthalmology surgery center.
- Accurate patient IOL matches. An ensures that a surgery center will have available the artificial lens that matches what an individual patient needs on the day of surgery. This means no mismatches and no unexpected delays while the right IOL is procured.
- More time to focus on patient care. A nurse or other clinician who was spending an hour or two each day manually inventorying IOLs can now use that time on direct patient care.
- Use and payment validation. The biggest financial benefit is that surgery centers can validate the number of IOLs it used and pay manufacturers an accurate amount. If a center is manually tracking 5,000 implants, and a consignment vendor says it’s owed for 15 implants, it’s difficult to verify the claim and easier to pay the vendor for what may or may not have been used. At up to $800 per lens, that’s a significant price to pay for uncertainty. But with an automated inventory management system, a center can type in a serial number and instantly know whether an IOL was consigned, used, not used, returned, replaced because of damage, or sent to another site.
- Inventory cost reduction. For surgery centers that purchase their IOLs, an automated inventory system will provide purchasing insights on what’s moving and what’s not moving, what’s being used and what’s sitting on the shelf. With that information, a center may adjust its product mix to limit the amount of capital tied up by unused or rarely used IOLs.
- Additional revenue opportunities. On the revenue side, a surgery center may want to stock more IOLs preferred by patients, physicians and health plans. Also on the revenue side, the information helps with the clinical documentation needed to correctly bill plans for cataract procedures.
- Online payment and ordering. Operationally, the biggest benefit is to workflow. By eliminating the manual processes described earlier, everyone saves time, including time spent on rework from mistakes, errors and inaccuracies. Another workflow benefit is billing and re-ordering. A surgery center can set up its inventory system to automatically send requests to a manufacturer when one of its consigned IOLs is used and immediately order a replacement.
Three tips for optimizing an automated IOL inventory management system
No automated system runs by itself, of course, and simply turning on a barcode scanner and connecting it to an inventory management app doesn’t guarantee clinical, financial and operational benefits. To make the most of this new approach, an ophthalmology surgery center should:
- Train and educate staff on how to use the new automated IOL inventory management system
- Appoint a “champion” who will embrace the new system and encourage others to use the new system and all its capabilities
- Use system-generated inventory reports to actively manage IOL inventory on an ongoing basis
Change is difficult, and compliance with a new inventory system will be challenging, especially for employees who have been counting and tracking artificial lenses by hand for years. But for ophthalmology surgery centers willing to make the leap and commit to a new process, the outcome will be improved clinical and business performance.