HME providers inch toward bar coding

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

SANDWICH, Mass. – As Mark Sheehan’s experience shows, it’s really easy to lose track of inventory.

The president of Cape Medical got a shrill wake-up call recently when one of his drivers discovered more than 40 oxygen tanks in a deceased patient’s basement. At $50 per tank, it added up to a substantial amount of cash removed from circulation.

“This was a long-term patient and the tanks built up over a period of years,” Sheehan said. “She was an active person, so she often wouldn’t be around when we’d visit the house. So what would happen is that we’d pick up two tanks and drop off four.”

The experience sparked heightened inventory vigilance at Cape Medical and Sheehan is determined to prevent similar mishaps in the future. Although he doesn’t have immediate plans to implement bar coding due to budget constraints, he admits that it would greatly improve product tracking.

Notoriously far behind other industries in bar coding, HME providers may finally be ready to invest in scanning technology, software vendors say.

“Over the past year, there’s been a lot more interest in getting into it,” said Heidi Thometz, director of sales and marketing at Billings, Mont.-based Computers Unlimited. “With new options in wireless technology, real time picking and receiving, it has really hit a hot button with providers.”

Spencer Kay, president of Plainview, NY-based Fastrack Healthcare Systems said the company’s sales of bar coding software and hardware are up 15% to 20%.

“People are reading more about it and are understanding the benefits,” he said. “They realize that it’s something they need to do. There are so many different items and supplies to keep track of. With multiple branches and rentals, inventory is moving around all over the place.”

Bar coding software is being designed to integrate with accounts payable, product usage and retail point-of-sale counts. Scanners give delivery personnel the ability to confirm orders in the field and with hand-held computers they can download data directly into the providers’ system.

Though the advantages are many, Mark Kulik, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Atlanta-based CareCen-tric, said he understands why providers have been reluctant so far.

“Getting the company hooked up means going through a physical inventory count and labeling your assets – it’s hard to say ‘Let’s stop our business, take a long weekend and tell the staff to start counting’” he said. “That’s in addition to the dollar costs. But people need to know that a dollar expounded today will reap future returns. Bar coding works from a productivity and cost minimization perspective.”