How the NHS is Implementing Augmented Reality for Better Inventory Management


Who would’ve thought inventory management and AR could go hand-in-hand? Most of us know of examples of AR in the gaming and retail sectors, but a recent partnership has suggested that the tech may have far broader applications. The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recently teamed up with a pair of tech companies to explore AR’s potential in the healthcare niche.

Operative issues like supply chain failures can be costly for the NHS. That’s what makes inventory management such a vital part of operations. Through AR technology, supply chain issues could occur far less frequently. The objective of the recent partnership is to promote speed and accuracy in NHS stock checking and procurement. This could then reduce errors and increase financial and work efficiencies. It also has the potential to improve patient safety and cut costs.

medical supply chain picImage Source: UK Tech News

The new pilot program combines cutting-edge inventory management software with the latest AR. It’s the first time such an endeavor has been tried in the healthcare sector. This integration lets the NHS scan supplies using smart devices or scanners. Then, they view real-time information, such as stock numbers or expiration dates, through AR visuals. 

The AR allows the overlaying of accurate, real-time data over physical objects. What happens here is it detects which is the best match with the given data. It is able to disseminate workflow across teams, so the process of inventory management is much more efficient.

Usually, clinicians take up a lot of time looking for products. But with the help of AR, barcodes get scanned simultaneously. That’s both the 1D and 2D versions. The system being trialed then highlights specific items with AR feedback on the device. As a result, product recognition is more accurate and much quicker. 

Healthcare officials then have more time for frontline patient care. Staff efficiency is notably improved. Manually managing stock could be largely discarded. Furthermore, improving logistics has already been proven to be a genuine timesaver for NHS staff. In one case, for instance, such improvements reduced the time spent by clinicians on locating products by 90 percent.  

How, then, has something as fundamental as inventory management come to progress so far? Why, when paired with AR, can streamlined logistics make such a difference to the NHS, and really any organization? Some of the answers get revealed by a look at the evolution of the field, and how new technology has come to play a larger role.

The Evolution of Inventory Management

graph picImage Source: Credence Research

Before the introduction of AR technology, inventory management went through many phases of development. Many industries and fields go through a similar evolutionary process. Each step in the development of inventory management had its own varieties of technology to support those working on the logistics frontline. 

Once upon a time, all workers had to handle stock and orders via the pick-by-paper approach. Details of the stock needed to be picked for orders that had to get printed, and staff needed to follow the instructions they read. Paper-based instructions, though, are prone to errors. Therefore, a more reliable and scalable solution was sought.

In the next phase of supply chain evolution, pick-by-voice became more widespread. Employees wear a headset to interact with smart warehouse management software. This lets them receive and confirm product pick-ups. Pick-by-voice is 50 percent more productive than pick-by-paper. That’s quite an improvement for any organization. As the commercial world continues to develop, though, even more cutting-edge advancements are getting explored.   

This is where AR and other truly groundbreaking tech comes in. Such solutions – that until relatively recently belonged in the realm of sci-fi – can have a vast impact on productivity. 

The UK Government’s recent Scan-4-Safety program is a prime example. Since 2016, that program has trialed innovative tech to enhance NHS supply chain efficiency. More than £1 million has been saved from automating ordering and optimizing stock levels. 

Adding an AR element to the barcode scanning tech that was the main part of the Scan-4-Safety program is a logical next step. If the updated AR-enabled solutions deliver similar results to the prior scheme, they could truly revolutionize the healthcare sector. That’s not the only industry that AR may transform, either. 

The overall AR market is rapidly growing. In 2019, it was worth an estimated $16.8 billion. One report suggested that it may be worth around $160 billion by 2023. From retail to automotive, AR is becoming genuinely relevant in the modern workplace. Mostly, it may become a vital component in the logistics sector. What we know from science fiction is slowly turning into a reality. 



About Author

Nick Shaw is the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) of Brightpearl and is responsible for Global Marketing, Sales and Alliances for the leading retail inventory management software provider. He has written for sites such as Hubspot and SAP.

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