IntelliGuard® Resources

Surviving Drug Shortages with Improved Inventory Management

Posted on Jul 19, 2017 by Valerie Fritz

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Managing medication inventory in acute care settings is challenging under the best of circumstances. When drug shortages occur, the challenge magnifies and may impact patient health and safety. Hospital and health system pharmacists are responsible for managing all medications throughout the facility, and serve a critical role in delivering quality patient care. Optimizing drug inventory throughout a facility is a critical strategy the pharmacy team can use to better deal with drug shortages. Innovative technologies such as Intelliguard® RFID provide the visibility to make this improved inventory management possible.

Drug shortages are common in today’s environment. According to an article titled “Drug Shortages Forcing Hard Decisions on Rationing Treatments” in the New York Times “In recent years, shortages of all sorts of drugs — anesthetics, painkillers, antibiotics, cancer treatments — have become the new normal in American medicine. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists currently lists inadequate supplies of more than 150 drugs and therapeutics,” As the article went on to state: “Many drugs are made by only one manufacturer, so production or safety problems at a single plant can have big effects.And when shortages occur, medical professionals are in the difficult position of deciding how to offer treatment, and to whom.

A second New York Times article titled “A Vital Drug Runs Low, Though Its Base Ingredient Is in Many Kitchens” talked specifically about the recent shortage of sodium bicarbonate: “The shortage of sodium bicarbonate solution is only the latest example of an inexpensive hospital staple’s supply dwindling to a critical level. In recent years, hundreds of generic injectable drugs have become scarce, vexing hospital administrators and government officials, who have called on the manufacturers to give better notice when they are about to run short.”

The pharmacy is responsible for dealing with any inventory challenges that may arise, and ensuring the right drugs are available when and where they are needed. While they cannot control drug shortages, they can optimize existing drug inventory to reduce waste and maximize effective use.


Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology wirelessly reads and captures information associated with a tag, attached to an object (i.e. medication.) The object-level tracking and visibility benefits of RFID have been widely used in the defense, manufacturing, retail and logistics industries. Hospital pharmacy automation using RFID is growing rapidly, often driven by greater emphasis on patient safety, staff efficiency and inventory cost control.

RFID healthcare technology such as the Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management System is used in health system pharmacies to provide item-level visibility to all medications throughout a facility. When a kit or tray is returned to the pharmacy for refilling, it is placed in the Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management Workstation where the system reads all product inventory and compares it against the precise PAR level and formulary specifics of that kit or tray.

Upon restocking, the system provides alerts for soon-to-expire medications. In addition, at any point during their day, a pharmacist can run real-time reports on all medications, down to the location and details for each vial, including lot number and expiration date.

This granularity in item-level tracking of medications allows pharmacists to:

  • optimize their trays and reduce waste
  • quickly identify soon-to-expire medications to use before expiry
  • view par levels along with real-time inventory and swap meds between facilities as needed to maximize use

As one of our customers recently noted when addressing their team, they are using their Intelliguard® RFID system to manage expirations for tray medications, optimize inventory between facilities and better handle shortages:

 “In light of the nationwide shortages for code meds, please be reminded to use the reporting with Intelliguard to assist with managing expirations for code tray meds. The system will alert you to meds pending expiration and will also allow you to replenish the trays with staggering med expirations so that you do not have a massive tray refill when one lot expires on the same day. If we can use meds between facilities to avoid wastage from expiring meds, that will help tremendously.”

>>Read Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management case studies

More About RFID for Reducing Medication Waste and Optimizing Inventory

Beyond reducing waste and helping to more effectively handle drug shortages, hospital pharmacy automation with RFID eliminates errors, saves staff time and controls costs.

>>Read more about the benefits of RFID

Please contact us to discuss how we can assist your facility in dealing with critical inventory management challenges.

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