Early in the fight against COVID-19, as cases rose along with demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), U.S. hospitals and healthcare systems quickly realized that normal channels for supplies wouldn’t be able to fulfill their needs.
Many hospitals rely on just-in-time (JIT) distribution of PPE and mission-critical supplies in the event of a respiratory-borne pandemic. The best the JIT vendors could do was provide a fraction of what the hospitals needed, given the widespread and significant rise in demand.
To compensate, hospitals and healthcare systems around the globe set out to source product on their own, chasing down any leads they could find. While the supplies remained scarce, supply-chain teams’ inboxes soon overflowed with solicitations from unknown organizations and individuals, each promising to have a source for precious PPE. Desperate to protect healthcare workers and patients, many sourcing professionals began tirelessly chasing down every lead they could, often only to find the supplies were no longer available, or worse, requiring payment in cash up front for supplies that were either inferior or nonexistent. Meanwhile, as the demand rose, so did the price of those supplies, as individual hospitals, healthcare systems and government agencies found themselves in bidding wars for products from unfamiliar and at times questionable sources.
Collaborating for Common Good
The American Hospital Association (AHA) was among the first organizations to recognize the need to address the challenge at the system level, rather than everyone operating in do-it-yourself mode. At approximately the same time, Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX) was receiving calls from provider members of its community, asking for help vetting these unknown organizations. That’s when GHX and the Association for Health Care Resource & Materials Management (AHRMM), a professional membership group of the AHA, began working together. GHX offered pro bono services to leverage the resources it typically uses to help hospitals credential suppliers. It provided the initial vetting services, while AHRMM published information about the vendors who passed the initial screening, at their discretion, on a publicly accessible website. The goal was to minimize duplicative work among hospital supply-chain teams, by creating a single location where they could view the results of the vetting effort.
During late March and early April, the volume of vendors grew exponentially. To manage this influx, GHX set up a self-registration portal for vendors to add themselves to the vetting queue. AHRMM, meanwhile, recognized that some vendors were making onerous demands, such as large minimum order quantities or requiring cash up front. As a result, AHRMM incorporated additional questions into the vetting process about the products available, shipping costs, price, and terms and conditions, and published this information alongside the names of the vetted suppliers in an effort further simplify the work required by hospital supply-chain teams. These questions also served to screen out vendors that chose not to answer these questions. Since then, AHRMM has enabled hospitals that have worked with vetted vendors to rate their experience with them, to help peer organizations identify quality sources and feel more confident in their selection.
As of July 17, GHX had vetted more than 770 vendors, and 315 were approved and posted on the AHRMM website. While this doesn’t guarantee that a supplier or its products are legitimate, it has helped to minimize the number of vendors that hospitals had to vet on their own, while diminishing the potential for unscrupulous actors to dupe hospitals and jeopardize the health and well-being of patients and staff. However, it’s important to note that hospitals should still follow their typical vendor review and approval policies and procedures.
Advancing the Vetting Initiative
The collaborative effort caught the attention of the National Governors Association (NGA), which is seeking to consolidate the work done not only by GHX and AHRMM, but also other organizations that have been vetting suppliers and critical supplies. Governors have taken lead roles in their states and territories in ensuring the availability of lifesaving equipment, despite limited pre-pandemic experience in navigating complex global supply chains. By hosting the collective results on a single website, those seeking PPE and other supplies will have a one-stop shop where they can search for both products and vendors. Healthcare delivery organizations will also be able to see which vendors and products have passed multiple screenings or been reviewed by their peers, expanding the value of the various sourcing initiatives.
One such initiative is being organized by Public Spend Forum (PSF), a global market intelligence platform for public sector markets. Through GovShop, its free supplier and contract intelligence platform, PSF provides comprehensive supplier and contract data across all markets. In response to COVID-19, their team is collaborating with the Defense Joint Task Force, National Governor’s Association, and healthcare organizations like AHRMM to verify suppliers and compile the largest free supply-chain data set on COVID-19-related product inventory, capacity and availability. The data set aggregates information from suppliers and is intended to help healthcare agencies source needed products in response to the virus.
COVID-19 has threatened the health and well-being of millions of individuals and organizations around the world. On a brighter note, it has also brought together organizations, both public and private, while bringing forward organizations with legitimate resources to support the battle. Supply chain by its very nature is a system that thrives on collaboration. COVID-19 might have begun by highlighting the frailties of the healthcare supply chain, but it will end with a demonstration of what is possible when stakeholders come together for a common purpose.
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