More with less: Department cuts technologists’ wasted time searching for CT supplies by 62%

Amid a challenging hiring landscape, one academic radiology department has deduced how to improve the efficiency of its CT technologists with a simple intervention.

The University of Utah Health’s department of radiology recently tackled a quality improvement project to address time spent rooting around for syringes and other items in the supply closet. Using Lean Six Sigma methodology, the Salt Lake City-based institution has reduced time spent gathering materials by nearly 62%, researchers detailed Feb. 1 in RadioGraphics [1].

“The CT supply room is a critical resource in the imaging workflow. However, the supply room for the two CT scanners at our cancer center, one of which is used for our busy interventional service, was disorganized, and the time spent searching for the appropriate equipment could potentially lead to delays in service and contribute to patient safety risks,” radiologist Rebekah Aquino, MD, and co-authors noted.

Those involved formed a multidisciplinary team to help reorganize supply storage using Lean “5S” methodology (sort, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain). Their process started with spending an afternoon observing CT technologists’ routine, which often included opening multiple unlabeled cabinets and drawers while seeking items. Techs also expelled excess motion because frequently used items were stored in a supply room 50 feet farther way from the scanner.

To increase efficiency, the team removed all items that were expired or never used by techs or providers. This included boxes of printer ink, CDs and glove box dispensers. They reorganized cabinets, drawers and shelves by each supply type and frequency of use, keeping essential items closest to the CT scanner. Aquino and colleagues also spent $700 for dedicated shelving and storage bins, removed all items from boxes to increase visibility, and labeled everything.

Utah Health conducted a supply retrieval scavenger hunt with seven radiology residents to measure the project’s impact. Before the intervention, it took an average of 11 minutes and 17 seconds to locate the 10 supplies. But afterward, residents spent 4 minutes and 19 seconds, a roughly 62% drop. “Spaghetti diagrams,” tracking footpaths to and from the supply room, showed decreased movement and fewer trips to the farthest closet. Following the change, 100% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the new setup (vs. 55% before).

“Our quality improvement project demonstrated that we were able to successfully implement a high-impact change to our CT imaging workflow by using a systemic approach that was low cost, fairly quick to execute, and easily implementable,” the study concluded. “Ultimately, the application of 5S methodology within the CT room and supply closet maximized storage space, improved workflow by reducing wasted time and motion, and improved the satisfaction of CT technologists and providers.”

Future directions could include applying this methodology to other CT and MR units in the hospital. They also may create a system to improve the ease of taking inventory when ordering new supplies. Read more at the link below.

Marty Stempniak

Marty Stempniak has covered healthcare since 2012, with his byline appearing in the American Hospital Association's member magazine, Modern Healthcare and McKnight's. Prior to that, he wrote about village government and local business for his hometown newspaper in Oak Park, Illinois. He won a Peter Lisagor and Gold EXCEL awards in 2017 for his coverage of the opioid epidemic. 

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