Blood shortages are affecting healthcare providers everywhere. While members of the public are urged to make donations, hospital teams must ensure maximum protection of existing blood and blood products to prevent wastage. This is an area where digital workflows can have a significant impact by improving inventory management for blood.
The need for blood donations is ever-present. But the situation has become critical in recent months. The NHS Blood and Transplant authority issued a stark warning this winter that the UK may soon drop to only two days’ supply – compared with the five-day supply it aims to maintain. The American Red Cross declared a national blood crisis in the US as shortages reached their worst levels in over a decade.
Patients need blood for a range of reasons, including surgery, cancer treatment and anaemia. In many cases, it is a lifesaving intervention.
With supplies of blood and blood products at such critical levels, laboratory and transfusion teams are more concerned than ever about preventing loss.
Are existing methods of inventory management for blood robust enough to withstand current pressures?
Challenges of inventory management for blood
The grouping, identification, processing, labelling and transportation of blood is critical to providing the correct type, quantity and quality of blood to particular patients. This depends on rigorous procedures to maintain patient safety and meet the requirements of MHRA, CQC and UKAS compliance.
Inventory management for blood has historically been handled via paperwork but this can create vulnerabilities. Missing or incomplete paperwork means their recipients must reject blood packages on safety grounds. A complete cold chain record is crucial.
Staff must check key details when receiving blood boxes: Is the seal intact? Does the box carry details of when and where it was packed? Has the package been delivered within the required transport time? Have appropriate temperature conditions been maintained during transportation?
If any of those details are missing or unclear, the blood will be rejected. This not only means the blood must be disposed of but may also have knock-on effects on patient care, such as scheduling of surgery.
The use of paperwork for checks and recording of details also creates a manual burden on busy staff. It is understandable in stressful times that checks and records are occasionally missed. The time involved in dealing with paperwork is particularly problematic for senior staff members who have to review the documentation on a regular basis for auditing purposes.
Another problem with paper checklists is that they are increasingly unsuited to the principles of modern healthcare and cleanroom environments. The pandemic has put a new focus on infection control, and the handling of paperwork could be seen as a potential risk.
Finally, regulations require documents to be stored for a period of years, which takes up space in hospital buildings and sometimes even means investment in external storage services. In today’s climate, this inefficiency is difficult to justify.
Using digital assistants to improve inventory management for blood
Laboratory and transfusion teams are increasingly turning to digital workflow solutions to help them manage blood identification, processing, and distribution.
We are entering a new era of inventory management for blood.
The Checkit platform, for example, provides staff with a digital assistant in the form of a mobile device or mobile app. All relevant processes are configured within the platform. The digital assistant prompts and guides staff on the actions they need to take at a given time or location and automatically captures that information for reporting purposes.
Digital assistants also incorporate QR code scanning, via the camera on the mobile device so that specific boxes can be quickly attached to particular locations, actions and identifiers within the system.
Any deviation in the process triggers an alert which can be escalated as appropriate.
The Checkit platform also integrates automated temperature monitoring via IoT sensors that ensure correct temperature conditions have been maintained.
The result is that managers had time-stamped evidence securely stored in the cloud to show when and where a blood box was prepared, and all relevant actions were completed. Staff receiving blood boxes can also quickly access accurate details of the consignment, such as where it’s from, who collected it, how long it has been in transport and so on.
Aggregated data enables leaders to analyse patterns and establish new KPIs for the processing and delivery of blood and blood products.
Performance details that might have been missed or seen too late when depending on paperwork are immediately available via management dashboards, providing higher levels of all-round visibility.
Deployments of the technology have also demonstrated how removing manual checks, and pen-and-paper reporting can save significant amounts of staff time and provide more clarity and peace of mind over adherence to procedures.
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