IU Health Service Center Expected to Improve Patient Care Statewide

Indiana University Health, the largest healthcare system in the state, broke ground earlier this month on an integrated service center that will make it the first hospital system in the U.S. to oversee its own supply chain, complete with a robotic “picker” to gather the medical and surgical supplies requested by doctors around the network.

The IU Health integrated service center (ISC) is scheduled to be completed in Plainfield, a bedroom community outside of Indianapolis, next July. According to Dennis Mullins, vice president of supply chain operations at IU Health, the 300,000-square-foot building will fundamentally change the way IU Health handles supplies, improving efficiency and lowering annual costs by roughly $3 million through standardized inventory, ordering in bulk at a discount, streamlining delivery routes, and quicker re-stocking. The changes will make the ISC “much more than a best-of-breed hospital warehouse,” he added.

“It brings a certain amount of value from a savings perspective,” Mullins said. “The more control we have over our supply chain, the better off we are controlling our destiny. And the more accurate and timely we are, the better it is for our patients.”

In many logistical operations similar to ISC, humans are the pickers. They wait for a request to come in, and then they typically walk—a lot, depending on how big the warehouse is—to retrieve the requested items. With the new automated ISC operation, robots retrieve the supplies and bring them back to their human counterpart, who then packs them off to their final destination. Mullins said the system allows a couple more picks per hour, and he said he expects to have a total of 18 robots working at the facility.

The ISC will be structured like a grid, Mullins explained, and the robots will move laterally on top of the grid to retrieve supplies. The center will employ about 110 people once construction is finished. Mullins said the center will initially stock medical and surgical supplies, and will add other service lines, including pharmaceuticals, over the next several years.

Mullins said IU Health is the 18th largest nonprofit hospital system in the nation, consisting of 15 hospitals and numerous outpatient facilities in partnership with Indiana University, the country’s largest medical school. In 2015, more than 1 million people received care from IU Health—an all-time high for the system, Mullins said.

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