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A data base management program for lab inventory.

A modest software investment has given our 94-bed hospital laboratory sophisticate inventory control over expendables.

For example, we print a seven-page catalog from time to time, alphabetically listing 300 supply items used by the lab and showing their storage location and current prices, among other information. Another catalog, listing supply items by location, serves as a checklist when we take inventory at the shelves. We can also issue printed ordering instructions to the hospital purchasing department, get an instant reading on what is due from a vendor and what has been received, calculate the cost of an item per test, and determine section by section expenditures on supplies.

All this and more was made possible through DB Master, a data base management program purchased for $250 from Stoneware, San Raphael, Calif. The hardware consists of my own Apple II Plus microcomputer with two disk drives. We use an Epson dot matrix printer to prepare reports.

We had explored use of the purchasing department's inventory software for general hospital items, but it would have taken a lot of reprogramming on the hospital minicomputer to get the kind of reports we wanted. With a data base management program, the user stores information in categories called fields (vendor names is one field, supply items another, and prices a third) and joins the fields in any combination to create records or reports.

Those reports, by the way, are available as soon as they are generated from the microcomputer keyboard. There's no waiting for another hospital department to furnish them.

On command, the microcomputer alphabetizes item names or organizes catalog code numbers in numerical order. Thus, it's a simple matter to add new vendors or other data to a field. Note, however, that adding an entirely new field requires entry (in some cases, reentry) of all pertinent data. Careful planning at the outset, to determine which fields and reports are desirable, can avoid extensive change in the data base at a later date.

Another feature creates a calculated field from two other numerical fields. If one field consists of package prices and another of units per package, arithmetic division performed by the computer will enter unit costs in a third field.

Let's go through the fields, starting with catalog number, which lists the codes that identify supply items. We decided to use vendor catalog numbers, long familiar to us, rather than lab-assigned numbers. Since we sometimes buy the same type of product from more than one company, the vendor numbers enable us to distinguish between the different brands.

Fields were set up for item--what the thing is, such as hematology control; description--package of 10 vials, say; unit--how the item is sold (by the kit or package as examples); and unit price--what the vendor charges for a unit.

Date ordered and late received are fields that tell us when supplies were requested and delivered. Date issued records when delivered items were first put into use.

A location field helps prevent misplacement of supplies in storage areas and long frustrating searches when we run out at the bench. It specifies, by code, where delivered items should be stored. All refrigerators, cupboard doors, and drawers are labeled with a number for this purpose. BB1 marks the first cupboard in the blood bank.

The location codes are also printed in a lab inventory catalog. That helps technologists find supplies when they work in areas they are not accustomed to, and it guides nontechnical staff members when they take inventory and put away supplies. Another key guide for taking inventory is the par field, which lists minimum quantities to be kept on hand.

Inventory frequency designates how often our stock of an item should be checked. It varies, obviously, with the rate of use and the stability of the item. Standing order (yes/no) and standing order due remind us about regularly shipped items and the dates they are to be delivered.

A field for order extension, or total price of a requisition, has entries that are derived from automatic multiplication of unit price and units ordered. This is especially appreciated by the purchasing department, which must make certain that each order carries current vendor pricing and an accurate total price for comparison against the invoice.

We zero in on supply cost per test through a subunit price field. With needles, he subunit price is clearly the cost for each. In the case of blood bank reagents, the cost breakdown is trickier. Typing sera calls for 1 drop of reagent. There are 20 drops per ml, and a vial has 10 ml of reagent. Subunit price, then, is automatically calculated by dividing 200 drops into the vial price.

As supply items were entered into the data base, a section using field was completed to indicate where they were utilized in the laboratory. This permitted us to design a report breaking down inventory dollars spent in chemistry, hematology, the blood bank, and other laboratory areas.

Those are the major fields in our inventory data base. Here are some of the reports we are able to generate.

The inventory catalog can be printed in a number of different formats, but we use two primarily. The alphabetical format is often turned to when we want to look up the vendor number for an item, check prices, or find a storage location. This catalog also indicates which section uses an item, its storage location, whether the item is on standing order, and if so, when delivery is due.

We also print the inventory catalog according to storage location, a format that is especially useful in checking for items in short supply. Going down the list of items at a location, we compare quantity on the shelf with the par or minimum level shown in the catalog. What we use, actually, is a photocopy of the catalog with a grid drawn alongside the item list--it makes a handy form to check off what and how much needs to be ordered (Figure I).

When ordering, I first search the data base for the needed item. The program is fairly rapid. In a diskette file of 500 records, it can find the requested catalog number in two seconds or less. Then the item's record flashes on my monitor. All I need to do is complete the fields for units ordered, p.o. (purchase order) number, and date ordered.

The done, I can print a "purchase initiator," which has the catalog number of the item, its description, the unit price, and the extension or the price for the quantity ordered (Figure II). I also get a column total for the extensions of all items ordered. The purchase initiator goes to the purchasing department, which places the order with the vendor.

I also print adhesive labels bearing the catalog number and description of the item, storage location, and date ordered. When the item is received from the vendor, we stick its label on the package to designate where it should be stored and to identify the contents. A copy of the shipment's packing slip is passed on to me, and I enter the date received into the inventory data base.

As an item is drawn from storage for use at the bench, a technologist removes its package label and sticks it to a pad on one of several clipboards throughout the lab. Each two-week pay period, I gather the labels and enter usage of items into the data base.

Our inventory activity report can summarize orders, deliveries, and usage for any time interval and by section. These reports are printed monthly right now, but I plan to prepare them every pay period for use with other reports under development on a spreadsheet program. That will give us the ability to correlate paid hours; inventory ordered, received, and issued; and workload.

Other kinds of information are readily available from the inventory data base. For example, I can budget accurately by section instead of having to project lumpsum supply costs for the laboratory as a whole. I can also quickly determine just how many supply dollars are going to each vendor.

There are many more information retrieval possibilities, all flowing from the fields we set up at the beginning. Ease of taking inventory, a sharp decline in Stat supply orders, and a reduction in inventory dollars on the shelf are among the benefits.
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Author:Hollman, Terryl
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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