Kati Harrington

The Problem with Preference Cards

Preference Cards: An Operating Room Staple

Preference cards are a crucial source of information in the operating room. They are used to guide staff as to the proper setup of an OR before a surgical procedure. They are particular to each physician and each procedure performed, detailing the physician’s preferences, or requirements, for the procedure. These preferences include the pick list of disposable supplies, instruments and tools, and room setup specifications.

Surgeons that require specialized medical supplies rely heavily on their preference cards to ensure that the items needed for each particular procedure are ready in the OR suite before each patient’s surgery. The impact of these cards in the operating room is significant, yet the challenge to keep these valuable reference tools updated, clean, and correct is excruciatingly difficult.

The Problem with Preference Cards

Given the many individualized specifications of preference cards, it is all too easy for medical teams to make mistakes when supplying an OR before surgery. Moreover, given that each surgeon requires his or her own preference card for each type of surgery, facilities must keep track of hundreds – if not thousands – of preference cards. As a result, preference card management can be daunting, and staff may neglect to revise the cards for years. When a hospital needs to make systemic changes to its supply chain, knowing what changes to make becomes extremely difficult if preference cards are not accurate.

Inaccurate cards give rise to two main issues: waste and inefficiency. Waste of medical supplies occurs because the preference cards dictate exactly the items that the OR staff selects for a surgery. If a surgeon no longer uses an item on a card, that item is frequently opened and wasted unintentionally. Inefficiency occurs when a surgeon requires a different quantity of an item than staff supplies before the surgery. The clinician must leave the surgery to fetch the correct item, and the surgeon must wait for the appropriate item to arrive before proceeding. Not only can such an event endanger a patient, but it needlessly increases OR time, which becomes a strain on hospital resources. Moreover, a rushed supply run means that surgical items may not be restocked properly, causing the hospital further problems down the road.

Supply Chain Woes

In fact, poorly managed preference cards are not only a strain on hospital resources, but they are also a common source of supply chain issues for hospitals. The complexity of preparing medical supplies for a surgical case involves a number of interdisciplinarian teams within a healthcare system. These include supply chain personnel, clinicians, surgeons, and executive leadership. Unfortunately, these decision makers frequently hold conflicting opinions as to what supplies a hospital and operating room should use. Rarely is there an open line of communication connecting these various teams. Without seamless communication and reliable data to back decisions, hospitals are all too often at an impasse when it comes to updating or standardizing supply stocks. Since supply chain costs account for one third of a hospital’s total operating expenses, it is crucial that teams are able to communicate about a hospital’s needs clearly and with a data-driven perspective.

The Answer: A Software Solution

Preference cards are a pain point in far too many hospitals. “Where do I even start?” is a common response when clinicians are tasked with cleaning and updating preference cards. The strain on hospital resources is a clear indication that manual, disconnected methods of maintaining preference cards and managing the hospital’s resulting inventory must become a thing of the past. Hospitals seeking to cut costs dramatically and increase efficiency would do well to adopt a software solution that transforms preference card management using machine-learning and cloud-based connectivity.