Developing Universal Standards for Health-Care Data

Monday, January 09, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - The Center for Innovation in Healthcare Logistics at the University of Arkansas has released a decision-support tool to help hospitals understand and adopt universal standards for identifying materials, locations and partners within the complex U.S. health-care system.

Vetted by several large health-care providers nationwide, the Levels, Readiness and Impact Model is a free, user-friendly and downloadable tool in a spreadsheet format. This spreadsheet guides providers through planning for adoption of emerging GS1 global data standards. GS1 is a global organization that designs and implements product standards to improve supply-chain efficiency. The health-care sector of GS1 developed global trade item numbers, or GTINs, and global location numbers, or GLNs, which some hospitals and health-care providers have already adopted.

The Levels, Readiness and Impact Model software helps healthcare providers by listing the investments needed for the user's chosen path to implement adoption of the standards and quantifying the benefits expected in terms of efficiency, accuracy and staff needed.

"Retail and other industries adopted universal standards decades ago with the familiar uniform product barcode on almost every label," said Ron Rardin, center director and Distinguished Professor of industrial engineering. "But health care has not followed suit, and the unfortunate result is a lot of confusion, waste and risk to patients.

"Many hospitals know little about what is involved or the benefits they might realize from implementing the GS1 system of standard identifiers for materials, locations and partners within their supply operations. We think our tool has the potential to accelerate adoption of such standards and thus increase safety and efficiency and reduce waste."

The health-care supply chain is a network of information and logistics within the broad spectrum of health care in the United States and worldwide. In addition to direct health-care providers such as acute-care hospitals and long-term facilities, surgical and diagnostic centers, physicians' clinics, pharmacies and other facilities, the health-care supply chain includes laboratories, equipment and software manufacturers, suppliers and distributors. Group-purchasing organizations, which are businesses within the health-care supply chain formed to increase purchasing or bargaining power for bulk supplies, also play an integral role.

In 2009, researchers Heather Nachtmann and Edward Pohl, associate professors of industrial engineering, conducted a comprehensive health-care industry survey and found that stakeholders lacked good and accurate information because they had not implemented universal standards for data. The goal of the survey was to assess and describe the current state of the health care supply chain, identify inefficiencies and explore opportunities for improvement. In their study, Nachtmann and Pohl described the U.S. health-care supply chain as an immature and expensive system with significant barriers to efficiency, despite some positive news, including a minority of providers that had taken initial steps toward the adoption of universal standards.

The Levels, Readiness and Impact Model decision-support tool is designed to address these barriers and deficiencies at the provider level, regardless the provider's degree of readiness in terms of structure, processes, personnel or technology. Enhancements under development will expand the tool's scope to include other parts of the supply chain. The system's analysis for providers begins with documenting baseline values for a variety of metrics of current supply-chain performance. The provider's proposed level of standards adoption is then used to build a list of data and technology that will be needed for that level and to predict improvements to be expected in the performance metrics.

The system will help providers explore alternative paths toward adoption and provide quantifiable assessments of providers' returns on investment. The system addresses the "business case" for joining the global system - how adoption of a consistent and pervasive system will increase efficiency and reduce waste, redundancies and risks to patients.

The Center for Innovation in Healthcare Logistics is an industry-university partnership that leads a nationwide effort to identify and foster systemwide adoption of innovations in health-care supply chain and logistics. The center facilitates collaboration among researchers at the University of Arkansas, health-care providers and industrial sponsors.

Rardin is holder of the John and Mary Lib White Systems Integration Chair in industrial engineering. Other key contributors in the effort to develop the Levels, Readiness and Impact Model include Nebil Buyuran, associate professor of industrial engineering; Vijith Varghese and Raja Jayaraman, postdoctoral fellows at the Center for Innovation in Healthcare Logistics; and a host of industrial engineering graduate students.


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