A fast-paced and stressful environment, the operating room (OR) is perhaps the most challenging area of a hospital for managing medications and narcotics. Although regulatory mandates and medication management systems have attempted to reduce errors and improve the administration of OR medication and narcotics, many caregivers find current solutions, like carts, barcode systems and automated dispensing cabinets, to be a time-consuming barrier to effective care.
The OR in and of itself is a challenging and demanding atmosphere, and yet the traditional systems currently in place in many ORs throughout the country are not reducing the burdens of caregivers, but adding to them. Fortunately, breakthroughs in radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology are now making it possible to effectively overcome these challenges with speed, efficiency and accuracy.
5 Challenges of Traditional OR Medication Management Systems
#1: Vulnerable to Human Error
Traditional systems have a limited ability to improve patient safety because they require humans to be 100 percent faithful in using them. In an AANA Journal paper titled Medication Administration in the Operating Room Lindsay Bree Brown, CRNA, MSN outlined that an increase in patient safety “…is dependent on the provider’s use of the technology available.” And as we know, in the complex environment of the operating room, using any technology that is cumbersome or complicates the patient care workflow is a challenge.
#2: Burdensome for Care Providers
Because they require manual processes (and human perfection) to be successful, traditional systems place a cumbersome and unnecessary burden on care providers. Given the high-stress working conditions of care teams in the OR, it is counterintuitive to add to their duties by requiring additional steps for medication administration. In response to these systems, many care providers simply skip distractive additional workflows that slow their pace or seem lacking in value. When inventory management consistently takes a backseat to other tasks, patient care and safety can eventually pay the price.
#3: Lack of Visibility (AKA the Black Hole for Anesthesia Drugs)
Traditional systems do not automatically track when inventory is dispensed or restocked, relying instead on human intervention, thus inventory changes are often missed. Moreover, hospital pharmacies have no insight into real-time medication usage, which means they are more susceptible to costly and dangerous stock-outs. It’s also difficult to track and manage expiring medications and narcotics, which puts patient safety at considerable risk.
#4: Lost Revenue Due to Billing Inaccuracy or Diversion
These days as drugs become more costly, managing them well within the allotted hospital budget is critical, but nearly impossible with traditional systems. As stated earlier, the manual intervention required for tracking drugs leaves the door wide open to human errors, such as capturing the wrong charges or not capturing them at all. Unfortunately, narcotics are among the most expensive drugs available and even a couple of billing errors can quickly add up to a serious budget deficit. In addition, with a lack of visibility into drug usage in the OR, diversion can become both a safety and cost issue.
#5: Poor Inventory Management
Oftentimes the lack of visibility provided by traditional systems combined with the strain on staff to effectively care for patients leads to behaviors such as inventory over-compensation (i.e. taking more drugs than necessary to ensure availability when needed). Behaviors like this lead to inaccurate inventories, stock-outs, billing errors and expensive waste. They also make it exceedingly difficult to forecast what is actually needed for various procedures.
A Modern Alternative for Managing Medications in the OR
In part two of this blog, we explore how innovations in RFID healthcare technology are enabling ORs nationwide to replace traditional and manual anesthesia medication management processes with an automated solution that not only increases patient and hospital safety, but reduces the burden on caregivers.
>>Read Part 2: The Solution to OR Medication and Narcotics Management.