Ordering, storing, and returning orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) devices can be a challenge under normal circumstances, but during a period strained by a global pandemic and a tumultuous supply chain, these inventory management processes were particularly demanding. To capture this moment in time and share interesting findings with the O&P community, we ran a survey. The aim was to learn how professionals in the industry managed inventory during these atypical years and how those processes may have evolved.
We’re excited to share the results of that survey and thankful to everyone who responded. If you would like to know when we launch the next SPS Trends Survey, click here to join our email list.
The online survey was published January 2022 and closed in February 2022. We asked questions designed to gauge O&P professionals’ conventions for managing inventory. The survey also included questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it may have changed protocols for managing inventory.
The survey was not restricted to only SPS customers, answers from anyone within the O&P industry were welcomed. We shared the survey to our social media channels, email, SPS online store, and the OANDP-L Listserver. Most responses came from individuals who worked at O&P facilities.
The percentages shared in this article are part of a total of 296 responses we received over that month. Questions in the survey include:
Approximately what percentage of work hours does your business/institution spend managing inventory per week?
What does your business/institution use to manage inventory?
What star rating would you give the inventory management software?
To what degree has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business/institution's inventory management?
What challenges has the COVID-19 pandemic created for managing your business/institution's inventory?
Based on supply chain/shipping issues, how has your business/institution adjusted the amount of stock they keep in inventory?
What challenges does your business/institution face when storing inventory?
How would you rate your business/institution's inventory management process?
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many underlying supply chain issues and ultimately tested inventory management processes for O&P clinics everywhere. Supplies that were once readily available became difficult to secure as partner suppliers struggled with raw materials, transportation, staffing, and capacity. Despite the turbulent few years, many O&P clinics did not respond by increasing inventory. This may be due to space constraints or difficulties procuring the supplies. A feature that could help clinics is more streamlined product packaging to increase shelf space and reduce shipping costs.
One common theme that emerged from the survey responses is the absence of standard protocols for managing inventory in the O&P industry. The employees who order and how they order vary from clinic to clinic. Inventory management software has room to grow in usage. Clinics that do use software give it an average star rating of 3.4 out of 5. More education and spotlights on what works for different clinics would be a helpful resource, but overall, O&P professionals are mostly satisfied with the protocols unique to their clinic.
The following includes the results from the 2022 SPS Trends Survey
“Approximately what percentage of work hours does your business/institution spend managing inventory per week?”21 percent (8.4 hours) was the average response, and it’s easy to see why when you consider time spent ordering, tracking shipments, storing devices, and returning orders. Inventory management can take up a good chunk of the work week, but there are a few tools you can use to regain time back:
- Leverage Saved Lists and Quick Order when ordering on the SPS Online Store
- Make sure to always have a return authorization (RA) number before returning an item to SPS
- Sign-up for Advanced Shipping notifications
- View live product inventory to reduce backorders
- Consider implementing just-in time (JIT) inventory management by ordering in-stock devices 2 - 3 business days in advance of a patient fitting
“What does your business/institution use to manage inventory?”
Respondents could select multiple answers to this question. The humble pen and paper was a popular answer with 57 percent. 33 percent selected inventory management software (such as OPIE, NYMBL, Empire Medical, etc.), and 16 percent indicated they leveraged spreadsheets.
We divided the responses into an advanced category and classic category. The advanced category included responses like inventory management software, QR codes, bar codes, and RFID. The classic category included tools such as pen, paper, and spreadsheets. 34 percent of respondents fell into the advanced category and 66 percent fell into the classic category.
Please keep in mind, we are using the term ‘Advanced’ only to help differentiate those who use inventory management software and those who do not. Inventory management software functionality can vary widely from system to system. The results from this question reveal that O&P clinics mainly use informal methods for managing inventory based on what is best suited for their needs.
In this survey, many respondents shared the inventory management software they leveraged, including:
NikoHealth: HME | DME Software
*Nymbl Systems and Opie Software are integrated with the SPS Online Store.
“What star rating would you give the inventory management software?”
3.4 out of 5 was the average star rating from respondents who use inventory management software. For this question, we received only 89 responses. 12 percent hate or dislike their inventory management software, 46 percent responded with ‘it’s ok,’ and 42 percent like or love their software. Overall, inventory management software has room to improve and a lot of room to grow in usage.
“To what degree has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your business/institution's inventory management?”
Half of respondents indicated their business/institution was ‘somewhat impacted’ by COVID-19, 14 percent were ‘greatly impacted’, and 20 percent responded ‘not impacted’.
We then asked “What challenges has the COVID-19 pandemic created for managing your business/institution's inventory?” the top three responses were shipping issues/delays (84 percent), supply shortages (83 percent), and staffing shortages (34 percent).
The pandemic created a perfect storm for our partner suppliers by affecting raw materials, transportation, staffing, and capacity. On top of those challenges, Texas suffered a deep freeze in February 2021 that shut down manufacturers of key components used in the O&P industry, such as chemicals, resins, and plastics.
The pandemic and manufacturing challenges in the US and abroad created a ripple effect felt by clinics everywhere. SPS’ Supply Chain Optimization strategy was implemented as part of a long-term strategy to create efficiencies for customers, but some of the changes are addressing pain points that emerged from the pandemic. The advancements have already reduced backorders for our customers by 20%. Click here to learn more about our Supply Chain Optimization strategy.
“Based on supply chain/shipping issues, how has your business/institution adjusted the amount of stock they keep in inventory?”
32 percent increased inventory, half of respondents made no change to their business/institution’s inventory. This may be explained by the follow-up question:
“What challenges does your business/institution face when storing inventory?”
Space constraints were cited as the dominant challenge (70 percent), the next most common response was organization (36 percent).
Some manufacturers, such as our exclusive partner Elevate Dynamics, have noted inventory challenges. Elevate’s all-in-one line of AFOs can be easily customized to fit a wide range of patients and their unique box makes it easy to store the AFOs on the shelf. Innovative packaging that can be easily stored and lighter to ship would be a helpful feature for partner suppliers to take into consideration when developing future products.
Need to free up space in your closet? The following includes companies that accept donations of O&P devices:
Bowman-Siciliano Limb Bank Foundation
Range of Motion Project (ROMP)
SPS is not affiliated with any of the above non-profits.
“How would you rate your business/institution's inventory management process?”
Half rated their business/institution’s inventory management process as highly effective or somewhat effective. 35 percent responded with average, and only 16 percent responded with ineffective or somewhat ineffective. Despite the wide range of protocols for managing inventory, most respondents found a method that worked for their clinic.
The survey revealed interesting insights into the O&P industry, including:
- The pandemic intensified underlying supply chain issues all over the world, making it difficult to secure orthotic and prosthetic supplies.
- Inventory management software has room to grow in usage and functionality.
- Clinics mainly struggle with space constraints and organization, making it difficult to increase stock during turbulent years.
- Partner suppliers should consider ways to reduce weight and improve the storability of products.
- Establishing best practices and standard protocols for managing inventory would be a helpful resource for O&P clinics.
This survey helped to illuminate interesting aspects of our industry. Thank you to everyone who responded. We hope to launch another survey again soon. In the meantime, what do you think of these stats? Leave a comment below!
Interested in participating in our next survey? Join our email list
7 Tips Every SPS Online Store Shopper Should Know
SPS Check-in: Discussion on Backorders and Manufacturer Supply Chain Challenges