4/2014, In English, Koulutus ja oppiminen, Työelämä

Healthcare logistician – New profession, new education

Introduction

The healthcare logistician (HL) profession and the education for it result from the Healthcare Logistician Project funded by Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) as part of the “Innovations in social and healthcare services” program, which aims to renew health and social services and increase business opportunities. The project was coordinated by Uudenmaan Pikakuljetus Oy as part of the global DSV group, and implemented in cooperation with two regional hospital districts and Lahti University of Applied Sciences (LUAS). The aim of The Healthcare Logistician Project was to create a new service concept, a new profession, define a job description and competence requirements for it, and develop education for healthcare logisticians.

Healthcare logistician service concept

Healthcare organizations are process organizations that are complex and challenging, containing actions and structures that have demanding material and personnel flows in which logistics contribute greatly to the quality of the operations (Fraunhofer 2013). Logistics plays an increasingly important role in healthcare, and it has become one of the largest cost factors for hospitals (Lillerank & Haukkapää-Haara, 2008). Simultaneously, financial and human resources have decreased in the healthcare sector. This has meant an increasing demand for more efficient productivity and material flows, the reallocation of existing human resources, changes to former working methods and the development of innovative working practices.

The key idea of the healthcare logistician concept is based on the findings of Keskiväli’s (2007) study, which found that the organization of logistics functions and the descriptions of those functions are insufficient, the education of personnel conducting healthcare logistics is inadequate, and full-time employees who are educated in logistics are sorely lacking. The basic idea of the concept is to free traditional healthcare personnel from the need to conduct logistics operations, thus allowing them more time to take care of patients. The aim is that logistics tasks are given over to HLs educated for the purpose but who also understand the special characteristics of the demanding healthcare environment. As indirect effects, cost savings arise in two ways: first they move logistics activities away from expensive treatment rooms, thereby freeing room capacity for more productive use. Second, the tools and equipment used become standardized. The expected benefits of the HL concept include reduced travel and search times, improved supply and equipment flows, efficient team working, clearly defined process ownerships, balanced workloads, and better spatial use solutions, thereby improving quality and patient safety.

Healthcare logistician profession

Healthcare logisticians work in a variety of healthcare organizations. Despite the differences in their working environments, healthcare logisticians support the work of healthcare professionals. They understand nursing and speak the same professional languages as nursing staff and logisticians. They take care of all variety of goods needed in healthcare operations, so that all the goods are in the right places at the right time, although they do not participate in nursing or the handling of medicines. In addition to availability and situational logistics tasks, HLs also closely cooperate with the internal and external logistics operations of other hospitals when planning order-delivery processes and creating the preparedness of components and stock buffering, etc. A HL is also a developer, a person who critically analyses logistics processes and functions and develops them.

Competence requirements

This new profession also has new requirements for its required competencies, skills and knowledge. The competence requirements of a HL are a combination of logistics and social and healthcare skills, which are based on the concepts of job-related (Cheetman & Chivers 1996 and 1998; Boyatzis 2008; Winther & Achtenhagen 2009; Bartlett et al. 2000) and professional competence (e.g. Torr 2008). The competence description of a HL is not a set of minimum competency requirements for all HLs in all healthcare organizations but is more a collection of abilities to perform tasks and duties. Due to professional competencies being context-dependent (e.g. Deewr 2007; Le Diest & Winterton 2005; Guthrie 2004; Mulder et al. 2007; Calhoun et al. 2002), they differ not only between individuals but also between organizations, thus they should be considered based on the needs of the respective organization. Despite contextual differences, the definition of competence requirements creates a collective understanding and agreement on the professional requirements for the profession of healthcare logistician.

A competent HL professional masters their work processes by means of the methods, tools and materials available and while observing occupational safety. In addition to occupational skills, he/she also has interpersonal and personal skills; the competence map of a HL highlights functional competencies (tasks that HLs should be able to do) but strongly recognizes both cognitive (what and why) and behavioral competencies (how to behave).

The competence map of an HL contains 11 task-related competence areas:

  1. Can plan and manage warehouse operations
  2. Can carry out orders
  3. Is familiar with duties connected to goods delivery and shelving services
  4. Is familiar with duties connected to goods collection and shipment processes
  5. Can establish a shelving service
  6. Is able to carry out stock management tasks
  7. Can store and handle hazardous materials and chemicals
  8. Is able to carry out infection prevention measures in accordance with best practices, the organization’s quality system, instructions and legislation
  9. Is able to plan and develop healthcare logistics and understands the role of healthcare logistics as part of the overall healthcare process
  10. Has knowledge of acts, decrees, regulations and guidelines governing his/her work practices
  11. Can maintain and enhance customer and stakeholder relations

And four interpersonal and personal skill areas:

  1. general working life skills
  2. personal skills
  3. language skills, and
  4. technology and information technology skills.

The large number of competence areas indicates the challenging content of the new profession.

Healthcare logistics education

Due to the particularly demanding work environments, existing logistics education – as part of business or technology education – does not meet the high standards and requirements of healthcare logistics. Consequently, a special competency based healthcare logistician education (HLE) that combines logistics and social and healthcare education is required. The most appropriate backgrounds for those wishing to study HLE include people with vocational degrees in business or logistics (e.g. warehouse operative, instrument technician), or people working in social and healthcare (practical nurse). This new education programme would offer students of business logistics or health and social care the opportunity to specialize.

HLE is being developed and carried out in cooperation with social and healthcare and business logistics educators from Lahti University of Applied Sciences and also receives thorough cooperation form healthcare organisations. The education is bachelor’s degree level further education (European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level 6). Thus, participation in HLE is open for vocational graduates, offering new bachelor level studies at both universities and universities of applied sciences. It is also possible to integrate and/or credit HL studies (30 ects) to part of bachelor’s degree. The study programme consists of six modules including social and healthcare issues, logistics, team and interpersonal skills development, project work and practical training. The first study group, 14 students, began studying at the end of 2013 and will graduate at the end of 2014. The next study group will begin in spring 2015.

Discussion

The need for healthcare services is increasing due to Finland’s ageing population. At the same time, financial resources are decreasing. This means that healthcare services need to be developed and healthcare organizations have to find new more efficient operating models. Healthcare logistics would enable that by strengthening logistical operations and allowing nurses to concentrate on nursing. In the most progressive organizations, several HLs are already working, whereas others are only considering the implementation of a healthcare logistician model.

Defined competence requirements and HLE will decrease uncertainty, reduce resistance and increase confidence in the profession. In addition to HLE, benchmarking and sharing best practices will be important competence development methods.

Future research on the HL concept and profession is needed from differing healthcare environments and organizations. In addition, there is a need to benchmark HLE internationally.

Authors

Ulla Kotonen, Development Manager, DSc (Econ & Bus. Adm.), FUAS – Federation of Universities of Applied Sciences, ulla.kotonen@lamk.fi

Ullamari Tuominen, Lecturer, Project Manager, LUAS – Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Ullamari.tuominen@lamk.fi

Miika Kuusisto, Lecturer, Project Manager, LUAS – Lahti University of Applied Sciences, miika.kuusisto@lamk.fi

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