6 Steps To Help Manage Short-Date Medical Inventories

Photo of a pharmacist stocking drugs onto a shelf

The average shelf-life for most drugs is 24-36 months but due to a range of factors such as previous bulk buys, lack of usage on certain drugs, suppliers entering and leaving the market it can leave organisations with medicines that are due to expire.

Tight budgets are common in medical organisations (especially so in the world of air ambulance services who are often charities funded only through donations) so better inventory management is essential. The main benefits of good inventory management are:

    • Reducing instances of being out-of-stock (which could affect patient care)
    • Lowering costs of orders
    • Less administrative time spent ordering/re-ordering
    • Reduction in costs that are incurred with expired drugs
    • Effective use of storage space

Managing your inventories effectively will always have a positive effect on your finances

Short-Date Medicines

So what can be done to a) manage short-date drugs and medicines effectively and b) produce best practice in inventory management?

To answer this I will now take a look at six steps that we would recommend implementing to enable you to see improvements in both areas.

Step 1 – Analyse Current Usage

The first step is to carry out an analysis of your current situation. This should be done for every location you operate out of and every vehicle within your fleet.

As part of this research you need to see how much is being used, what specific items are in demand, how much wastage there is from having to throw away expired drugs that weren’t used. Also, it’s important you have a record of the expiration dates for every drug in your organisation. This will help your understanding of what is being used and where within your organisation and identify areas that may need to be improved.

Step 2 – Plan Ahead

Once you have carried out your analysis you will be able to forecast effectively and only buy what you need. For example by knowing how much you are likely to use in a month you can use expiration dates to see if you have enough to handle demand. This approach will allow you to avoid having shelves full of certain drugs which won’t get used and will ultimately need to be destroyed.

However this step has a caveat which is covered next.

Step 3 – Buy Smart

As mentioned at the top of this article, budgets are often tight so you will need to balance out only buying what you need with buying smart.

This involves working out the true savings involved with the different purchasing methods. For example if you are looking to buy month-to-month because you want to help cash flow and avoid the costs of throwing away unused and expired drugs you need to work out how much it is costing to destroy them and weigh this up against the cost savings you can get from buying in bulk.

We all want to reduce waste BUT if it makes financial sense to buy larger amounts and save money (because the cost of destroying is less than the cost of buying in smaller quantities) this may be a necessary evil you need to work with.

Step 4 – Regular Checks

The next step is vital for your inventory management; you need to have the right technology in place.

A perpetual inventory system or Periodic Automatic Replenishment (PAR) inventory system is used to update your records every time any drug is prescribed and records deliveries, returns, destroyed batches etc to give you a real-time accurate picture.

Within these systems you should be getting alerts and notifications to let you know when a drug is due to expire. In our ARCEMS software we have added this functionality for our customers so they can easily see what is due to expire within the upcoming month and plan ahead accordingly.


Step 5 – Colour Code

From a tech solution we go to something a little bit more simpler but just as important. Using a colour coding system e.g. adding a small sticker to the medicine’s box which shows this item has a short date let’s employees know to use them first.

This also helps save a lot of time as they don’t need to be checking the expiry date on each box, they can just look for boxes with a purple sticker on for example which allows them to operate faster.

Step 6 – Monitor and Reward

The final step is to carry out periodic monitoring to see where areas of improvement may be needed. For example if your data is showing that paramedics in a certain base or vehicle are wasting/destroying more drugs than other locations then further training may be needed or you may need to review their ordering habits. This is something that you are able to do within ARCEMS with the image below showing an example of the reports you can see which show when and where drugs have been destroyed in your organisation.

Destroyed History

Similarly if you reward staff at locations with the least amount of wastage it can help breed a culture of working together to reduce waste across the company as you’re introducing a competitive edge.

Complete Medicine Management

Hopefully the six steps above have given you a few ideas about potential areas of improvement that you and your hospital, air ambulance or critical care transfer team could introduce.

If you find that you don’t have the required technology, as mentioned in Step 4 above, then ARCEMS could be what you need.

Our system offers medicine management functionality that provides an overall picture so you can see all uses of drugs down to an individual patient level and the system will check stock levels to ensure you have enough in-date supplies. This includes the logging of all deliveries and usage of controlled drugs in-line with legislative requirements.

Comprehensive batch management tools are included such as stock level monitoring. Each time a drug is administered or has expired and the system automatically updates quantities and can generate order forms at the touch of a button.

If you would like to find out more and see a demo get in touch with our team today via the form below.

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