Over the past 18 months, the world learned the significance of a strong supply chain. Just as important was understanding the consequences of an unreliable supply chain, which creates uncertainty and strain especially on the clinicians who plan, document and account for the medical supplies required for patient procedures. Whether operating in normal or unprecedented times, effective health-care supply chains should not be of main concern for clinicians. Their focus is on the patients. Yet inefficiencies in operating and procedural rooms, from the lack of visibility to inventories, to sub-optimal use of OR supplies, can amount to lost time, increased stress, increased patient risk and waste of $200 million in unused, discarded supplies.
Health-care supply chains aren’t as simple as trucks reaching loading docks. They involve knowledge about the activity occurring and materials required inside the four walls of the hospital. Beyond the coordination necessary to get product ordered, delivered, stocked and documented, an effective supply chain system requires close collaboration between supply chain teams and the clinicians who depend on stocked, accessible, accurate, unexpired supplies to provide patient care. While the front-end work of order and delivery involves careful tracking by supply chain management, the last vital stops of supplies involve the transfer from storage location to procedure room. Ultimately, the clinicians are accountable for the “last stop,” ensuring the right supplies needed to perform procedures are in the right room, right hands and at the right time. As a former clinician myself, the stress and uncertainty of not having the right supplies regularly prompted me to keep often used items tucked away for confirmed and certain access.
In the year 2021, even during the flux of a global pandemic, it does not need to be that way. As clinician demands continue to mount — the necessity of manual or detailed documentation for electronic health records and other administrative tasks — increased burnout and ambiguity around the roles of patient care are cited as the cause of current nursing shortages. Supplies available should not be another added stress to this essential profession. Instead, this moment offers an opportunity to better connect and communicate in order to advance health care and deliver care to patients. How so? Through regular collaboration between the supply chain teams of hospital systems and the clinicians who use those supplies.
This connected approach creates a win-win advantage where supply chain professionals relieve the burden on clinicians to handle cumbersome supply chain tasks. Communication is key, and by holding regular stand-up meetings among the hospital system’s supply chain leaders and clinicians, the information sharing becomes a critical advantage. They schedule team huddles where everyone has a seat at the table; they genuinely know the people sitting next to them; they talk, access data and reference schedules and supply dashboards. They also discuss opportunities to improve, like how to eliminate waste, or the need for same day requisitions and overnight deliveries of multiple purchase orders. The communication also results in less activity on the receiving end, freeing up resources at the loading dock. In sum, the connection cultivates trust.
A connected and dependable approach can be even more effective when supply leaders have enterprise visibility with the correct information on inventory levels, expirations, recalls and anticipated needs based on past usage. Accurate and trusted inventory support throughout every point of the supply chain saves time by reducing manual tasks and minimizing the potential for errors related to non-automated capture.
In the end, effective health-care supply chains do not just stock hospital closets, but serve the patients receiving care. That supply chain is more than medical products, it is linked by people — hospital supply chain professionals who regularly collaborate with clinicians and help them do their jobs. That’s why any system of supply chain management needs to consider services across the spectrum of communication, information, transparency and control while enabling the best in patient point of care.
Angela McNally is vice president and general manager of services at Owens & Minor.
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