Raising the barcode

Sunday, November 30, 2003

ELGIN, Ill. - The vast majority of HME providers have ignored barcoding technology, and that’s too bad because they don’t know what they are missing, say industry watchers.

“If you are not doing it, you are wasting a lot of potential productivity,” said Pat Egan, a division president for Air Products Homecare. “You are having errors you don’t need to have and entering data you don’t need to enter.”

About three months ago, Total Home Care added a barcoding component to its software system. The company is part of a select group. By industry estimates, only 10% to 20% of HME providers use barcoding.

“We love technology,” said General Manager Alan Kirk. “Any time we can use it, we are going to use it. ”

Total’s need for barcoding capablities began growing several years ago as the company’s inventory “exploded,” he added.

In fact, inventory control and tracking is a key component of barcoding. By assigning each piece of equipment a barcode, providers can easily log and track it from warehouse to patient and back. If a provider diligently records in the barcoding system a product’s maintenance and service history, all he has to do is scan the product’s barcode to access that information. Barcoding technology can also confirm orders digitally, freeing employees from performing that boring administrative task manually and reducing the opportunity for human error.

“It must be frustrating when you get to the end of the month and none of the inventory matches up with your manual reports,” said Brian Williams, marketing manager for Computer Applications Unlimited. “A barcode scanner can’t transpose numbers.” Kirk called the expense barcoding’s only downside. For a small to medium provider, $3,000 will get you a basic system that can record inventory and confirm orders in the field. If you want to add retail scanning and other features, you’ll pay more.

There are costs involved, sure, but the savings are “abundant,” said David Schaer, manager for software vendor Computers Unlimited. “Other industries use barcoding left and right, and they do that for a reason,” he said.