You’ve heard it said that it takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a diverse assortment of participants to care for a patient. And the supply chain is poised to wield perhaps unprecedented influence in that big picture.
The group of stakeholders involved in the enablement and delivery of healthcare is wide-ranging. It includes hospitals and health systems; physicians, nurses and other clinicians; insurance companies; group purchasing organizations; and various levels of regulatory agencies. We could expand the list even more to include the architects, contractors, equipment planners and suppliers involved in the construction, renovation or equipping of healthcare facilities. All play a vital role, whether it is for a limited time or ongoing.
Passing through all these entities is the supply chain, which an article in RevCycleIntelligence defined as generally referring to “the resources needed to deliver goods or services to a consumer”—in healthcare, a patient. The patient, of course, is a consumer, and today’s healthcare consumer has higher expectations for both outcomes and overall experiences.
Hospitals and healthcare systems are feeling pressure on multiple fronts, including:
- The need to deliver better, more integrated care along with lower costs
- The move toward value-based care
- The rising cost of healthcare, including medications and medical devices
- A focus on comparative effectiveness, product safety, vetting of suppliers, and ensuring policies and processes are followed
Leaders and influencers of healthcare organizations are increasingly looking to follow the lead of other industries in deploying supply chain management as a key weapon for achieving quality, safety, cost and other goals. As these organizations strive to provide more holistic, longitudinal care with smoother transitions between facilities and from facility to home, they need solutions that cross organizational and functional lines. Supply chain and materials managers for hospitals and systems, as well as their GPO partners, must discover ways to improve what has often been a fragmented process full of complications and inefficiencies that can negatively affect patient outcomes.
“The supply chain is becoming more involved in sourcing solutions, not just products,” Eugene Schneller, professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, told RevCycleIntelligence. By becoming more actively involved in the delivery of care as well as products, the supply chain can help to ensure that providers and patients have what they need when they need it, without the waste that so often contributes to higher costs.
It All Leads to the Patient
According to Pathstone Partners, a Chicago-based management consulting firm, health systems can use supply chain management and optimization to achieve the goals of providing high-quality care, reducing cost and ensuring service ability. This happens “through improved data collection and employment, attentive vendor management, and incentive alignment.”
With access to real-time, centralized data, hospitals and systems can capture and respond to demand for products and services, eliminate waste and redundancy, take advantage of price reductions, optimize utilization and establish standards. Supply chain management in healthcare, Pathstone adds, “plays a critical role in improving patient outcomes to achieve reimbursement through incentive alignment.”
While technology is essential to this pursuit, so are more human elements such as building long-standing relationships and trust through communication. By establishing such relationships with vendors, healthcare organizations can benefit from responsiveness to customer needs, attention to details, seamless projects, and customization—benefits that affect every department within a facility.
Jan de Vries and Robbert Huijsman’s overview of research on supply chain management in health services pointed out lessons that the health sector could learn from the industrial sector. The authors recommend research into the effective use of information technology, the influence of and relationships between different stakeholders, the use of performance metrics, and special attention to the specifics of services.
A guest post in Becker’s Hospital Review characterizes physician leadership as “the missing link” in the supply chain. It suggests that physician involvement could help manufacturers identify “truly promising technologies” as opposed to incremental (but costly) improvements of existing technologies, helping to overcome barriers to the introduction of new products that could lead to improved patient outcomes and reduced costs.
From prescription medications to personal protective equipment, from syringes to electronic medical records, from endoscopes to storage and transport solutions, the supply chain is indispensable to the day-to-day operations of any healthcare facility. By capturing and harnessing actionable data on products and services; flexing the collective clout of GPOs; and connecting with dependable, responsive, trustworthy partners who understand your needs and are committed to a long-term relationship, the supply chain can enhance its ability to make a difference in providing superior patient outcomes while reducing costs.
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