Kanban: control and flexibility


a spring, a perfect symbol of flexibility

A few words on the Kanban method

It is a visual approach to work management that helps improve the productivity, quality and efficiency of a team. It originated in the 1940s in Toyota. Kanban means board, card, table, sign.
Kanban is based on a card that represents a task or operation to be completed. The cards are placed on a notice board or whiteboard, divided into three main sections: ‘To Do’, ‘In Progress’ and ‘Completed’.
The workflow is managed by moving the boards from one section to another. When a team member starts working on a card, they move it from the “To Do” section to the “In Progress” section. When the work on the card is completed, that card is then moved to the ‘Completed’ section.

In healthcare, it is increasingly used for

  1. the management of medical equipment, such as infusion pumps, electrocardiographic monitors and other instruments. Kanban is used to keep track of the number of available equipment, its maintenance status and location. Staff can easily identify the availability of equipment needed to treat patients;
  2. the management of supplies, such as medications, bandages and dressings. Kanban cards are used to keep track of inventory levels and the need to reorder supplies. Staff can be sure that they always have the supplies they need to treat patients;
  3. patient management. Kanban can be used to show the path of patients through the hospital, indicating their health status, tests to be performed and treatments to be carried out. All this serves the care staff to have a complete overview of the patients’ pathway, identifying problems or delays.

In our case, we want to analyse the kanban method applied to the management of stocks in healthcare, to their replenishment as they are consumed. The main advantage is that it drastically reduces overstocking.
It avoids the well known paradox of ‘we have always ordered 100 boxes of MEDICATION XY per month, so we order them again’: this leads to unrealistic stock accumulations and also to having materials that expire, hence waste. With the kanban system we keep consumption records under control, keeping stocks at an acceptable level, reordering only what is needed, in the right quantity and at the right time. We will therefore have

  • a stock more in line with real consumption and
  • an optimisation of warehouse space.

Integrating the kanban method to the entire structure means that the benefits trickle down from the general warehouse or pharmacy to all sub-warehouses such as departments, medication cabinets, shelves, logistics columns, trolleys and drawers.

It is clear that kanban can be adapted to any healthcare facility, no matter its size: from the large polyclinic to the retirement home, from a medical centre to a general practitioner’s office.

And it does not only apply to medications: all medical and surgical equipment, expensive prostheses, investigation materials, laboratory reagents, simple bandages, plasters and syringes can be included.

nurse using the touchscreen of an eWork Cart

FH solutions to support the Kanban approach

If medical records and treatment/administration records are in digital format, the basic prerequisites for real-time stock control are in place. The most obvious solution is to equip departments with computerised trolleys. Management of the medical record, recording of medication and administration of treatment: all in one, as the trolley with the drugs and medical-surgical aids also has a computer or tablet on board.

An FH-Drawer is an integral part of hospital logistics, and moves in any direction, full or empty

Storing products in a rational way is the basis of a well-functioning warehouse. Having different ways to replenish stock also makes work better: facilities, but also individual teams, can have the choice of how to work. What does this mean? It means that 1) I can choose to move a PRECISO trolley from the patient rooms to the warehouse to replenish it; but also that 2) I can only bring FH-Drawers to the replenishment point; I can also 3) only bring divider bins (video) of FH-Drawers; I can transport the material in its original cardboard box 4) with a service trolley such as PI-NERO, or 5) the boxes (or bulk products) with a PRECISO TRS logistics column; I can have 6) a departmental warehouse with a MOSYS-ISO (news) rack or 7) furnished with a picking station. The combinations are indeed many, also helped by the fact that the heart of our system is the FH-Drawer: this is the true multi-platform transport medium, a common element between trolleys, logistics columns, shelves and cabinets.

Ultimately: each facility must be able to work in the way that suits it best (by giving priority to budget or to convenience for employees; by radically changing the flows or keeping them unchanged, or only changing the tools). FH solutions allow you to choose how to manage warehouses and stocks rationally and efficiently.


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