To save time, make your inventory computer-based

Track titles, stock, and reordering via e-mail prompt

In July 2002, a new inventory system for patient education brochures was implemented at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City that saves a great deal of time.

Before the computer tracking system was installed, staff had to go to several areas of the institute where brochures were stored and count the inventory each month to determine how many were in stock and how many had been mailed out.

Now the new system sends e-mail to certain employees in the Patient and Public Education Department at the Huntsman Cancer Institute when the inventory of any one of the more than 300 brochures in stock reaches a certain pre-specified count and needs to be reordered.

"The report that is sent lists the title of the brochure, the quantity on hand and where to order the brochure," says Melissa Dow, manager of Huntsman Cancer information service.

Dow receives the e-mail along with the manager of the learning center and the secretary of the patient and public education department. The managers follow up with the secretary to make sure the brochure is ordered.

The date the order is sent is entered into the tracking system as well as the date the order was received. In that way Dow will know how long it takes to receive brochures from each cancer organization the education department uses, such as the American Cancer Society based in Atlanta.

"If we can’t get a brochure for several months, then we may want to look at that brochure and decide whether or not we want to keep it. The tracking system helps us know which brochures are the most appropriate and easy to get," she says.

The inventory tracking program also helps determine which brochures are the most popular because it is linked to all the cancer information programs at the institute. These include the Huntsman on-line patient education database, a web site where people can get cancer information, and the cancer inquiry database where people can phone or e-mail for information on specific types of cancer.

Staff record materials that are distributed at other areas of the institute as well such as the patient care center, inpatient unit, radiation oncology, the learning center, and those given out during outreach events.

"We wanted to be able to track what brochures people are accessing on-line through our web site and also what materials we are sending out," says Dow.

When the system has been up and running for one year, the staff in the patient education department will review all the brochures that are in the inventory system to determine if some are not being used. Those that have never been sent out will be removed from the inventory.

Lots of work up front

Although there are many benefits to the tracking system, the patient and public education department had to do a considerable amount of work to aid the informatics department in getting it up and running. Information on each brochure had to be entered manually into the system. This included the title of the brochure, vendor information, its location, stock quantity, and a specified "low level" that would trigger an e-mail.

"It was a lot of work up front, but it’s nice having the system in place. Now we must make sure we are keeping up with orders and the low quantity we set is adequate," says Dow.

One of the main reasons for implementing the tracking system was to meet the needs of the new hospital that is being built next to Huntsman Cancer Institute. "We wanted to get this system in place because we thought that our department would probably be the source for distributing brochures throughout the new hospital," says Dow.

The plan is to have an area on the web site for designated nurses or the managers of each department to enter brochure orders. The order would be sent to the patient and public education department to be filled. The information on each order would be recorded by the tracking system.


For more information about using a computer system to track inventory, contact:

Melissa Dow, Manager, Huntsman Cancer Information Service, Huntsman Cancer Institute, 2000 Circle of Hope, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. Telephone: (801) 585-7236. E-mail: Web site: