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Industry Updates

No Room for Error in the Healthcare Supply Chain


The healthcare supply chain faces the complex challenges of helping providers, facilities and patients achieve the best outcomes while reducing the potential for error. Avoiding costly and catastrophic consequences is a challenge that can be met with new automated labeling solutions. 

Take the example of foodservice within a hospital. More than any other sector, food freshness and label accuracy are paramount within the walls of a medical facility. 

Whether it is food served in the cafeteria, grab-and-go in the visitors’ coffee shop or the meals served to patients, there is no room for error when it comes to accurate, legible information that provides preparation and expiration dates, ingredients lists and allergen warnings. With the enormous amount of food being served to facility constituents, hand labeling has become untenable and automation has emerged as a solution.

When it comes to the consumer-facing end of the food supply chain, the biggest errors are the human ones engendered in hand labeling. To avoid these problems, healthcare systems are adopting food-labeling systems that encompass all aspects of foodservice labeling accuracy. The dual goal is to eliminate human error and ensure regulatory compliance. Automated solutions are easy to implement and cost effective because they give a facility complete control of critical information for prep, retail and nutrition, and provide features to ensure operational efficiencies.

Automation helps make sure that the food served is as fresh as possible and provides a facility with the most accurate information on what is in the food, including allergens, ingredients and nutritional information. However, this is not just a back-of-the-house supply chain solution, but is customer-facing, as well. Importantly it reduces potential errors in a patient getting the wrong food, especially when allergens are a concern, because they are printed so they stand out clearly. 

The printer itself can be used with different software packages to customize what is on the label for efficacy for all users. Recipe management software can also seamlessly integrate with the printer, so for the hospital, it’s plug-in and ready to go. 

Compared to the old, error-fraught system, the supply chain benefits stand out. Previously, food served to staff and visitors might be marked with a price-marking gun, with a dialed-in expiration date. One automation device currently in use has a menu screen and two print heads, and it can store all information on ingredients and allergens for the food being prepped. Therefore, today, one single device can be used to support all of a hospital’s needs in the food prep area and perform ingredients labeling for the end-consumer.

Another cost-benefit is that hospitals using automation can reduce their stock of labels. For instance, many facilities had relied on labels color-coded for the seven days of the week (Monday-blue, Tuesday-yellow, etc.), which meant stocking seven different types of labels. Automated labels apply a boldly-colored box with the same identifiable colors of the week, reducing the seven labels to only one. There is also the capability to put a hospital-branded barbell or circular label on grab-and-go items that are tamper-evident. 

While the automation solution was initially used for food, there are medical applications, as well. For example, sterilization departments can use it to identify dates for reprocessing surgical instruments, ensuring all tools used in the operating room are sterile and patient-ready. The solution can also print hang-tags with critical data and an exportable history log of equipment that has been reprocessed. This offers traceability and assurance that all steps of the process have been done according to regulatory standards.

When it comes to best practices in hospitals, automating labels is one area where the supply chain is seeing improvements. With even more potential to meet challenges in delivering health care with greater transparency and improved accuracy, labels and software will continue to evolve in improving best practices for supply chain in healthcare.

Ryan Yost is vice president of printer solutions for Avery Dennison.


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