3 Strategies to Lean Into This National Health Care Supply Chain Week

In the healthcare “theater,” supply chain professionals largely work behind the scenes. As a result, we tend to notice supply chains only during times of disruption. Yet, these professionals frequently engage in logistical acrobatics to help protect clinicians’ ability to perform in their roles to ultimately provide excellent patient care.

Since the pandemic upended healthcare, there's been an overwhelming realization of just how crucial the supply chain is to the healthcare delivery ecosystem. Healthcare supply chain professionals are innovators who increasingly have the ear of top healthcare leaders. 

Shining light on this evolution of appreciation, two-thirds of respondents in a McKinsey survey of U.S. health system and supply chain executives said that the pandemic improved their perception of the supply chain’s impact on their organization. Despite countless disruptions in the supply chain, their position as a strategic ally has been confirmed.   

As we celebrate National Health Care Supply Chain Week sponsored by The Association for Health Care Resource & Materials Management (AHRMM), we extend our gratitude and appreciation to all the professionals who continue to show resiliency and flexibility to ensure supply chain health and continuity within patient care.   

Here are some of the top strategies for healthcare supply chain professionals to lean into this year and beyond.  

1. Strive for clinical alignment via a common mission   

Technology, on-demand data, and proactive sourcing strategies are all impactful when it comes to supply chain health, but interdisciplinary teams that position organizations to spend wiser are just as critical when it comes to pinpointing value. Internal policies, conversations around value models, and flexibility between non-clinical and clinical stakeholders are all indispensable factors in the modern healthcare supply chain.  

When we consider the role of collaboration, the relationship between the supply chain and clinicians can either be a detractor or driver of compliance. During COVID-19, physicians and other clinicians were exposed to supply chain challenges like never before, requiring them to elevate their engagement and provide clinical validation for the allocation of products. An inflection point, this formed a necessary bridge for clinical alignment to occur and connected a chasm that may have seemed too vast to have crossed in previous years. To move forward with sustainability, systems are recognizing that it is no longer a war between clinical preference and cheapest cost. Understanding and prioritizing value, not preference, is the only way forward together. This takes a common mission where all stakeholders unite around the shared, systemwide mission to provide the highest value at the lowest possible cost.   

In today’s complex environment where the best of efforts can still result in negative margins, fiscal responsibility must be tied to a larger mission. For both products and processes, this opens the door for healthy debate and flexibility as partners in the clinically integrated supply chain always come back to patient outcomes as the common denominator. For instance, the act of evaluating and selecting a new product or technology to be brought into a facility is a primary supply chain activity via value analysis functions, but it also directly impacts patient care from a clinical perspective.

In this operational framework, every decision is viewed from a patient-centric lens, because even choices that may not seem to directly impact outcomes may inadvertently influence care if they take resources away from care delivery. Engaged leadership is at the helm of this charge, promoting a culture where accountable physician champions actively participate in larger supply chain initiatives to ensure outcomes and cost are understood together. From consideration and contracting to utilization and ongoing evaluation, the two functions should be united around the same, outcomes-focused goal.  

 2. Work to build transparent infrastructures   

In the healthcare ecosystem, and particularly within the supply chain function, transparency is essential. Look no further than the period of inopportune supply challenges and the resulting emphasis on forecasting and visibility across the entire value chain, from raw materials to product usage. Additionally, when we consider the wave of M&A activity in healthcare, the challenge of finding savings opportunities and reconciling processes across the system also elevates the need for transparency. While cost reduction is a big incentive for hospital consolidation, it is also a challenge to reach consensus on how to standardize products and processes across the system. Unfortunately, it is far too easy to fall into the trap of comparing apples to oranges when the available data isn’t clear and expertise is scarce.   

Organizations are building transparent infrastructures to identify how facilities differ, share information across stakeholders, and unite the supply chain around a standardized approach. As systems standardize, reporting must be transparent and frequent enough to track performance and ensure accountability.   

Yet, while the need for transparency is clear, the path is often foggy. As leaders lean into transparency initiatives, proactively socializing supply chain realities is critical in creating a culture focused on efficient, transparent operations. Ultimately, it is both an organization’s culture and digital infrastructure that work in tandem to promote visibility and enable a nimble supply chain.   

It is worth asking:   

  • In our current state, can we promote transparency by rapidly informing our diverse stakeholder groups when a disruption in the supply chain occurs?  
  • Are our methods of reporting user-friendly, and is critical information easily accessible for different stakeholder groups?  
  • How is our organization articulating, evaluating, and communicating value?  
  • Who is accountable today and in future years when it comes to realizing value? How must we expand our current thinking to deliver value across the continuum?  
  • How are our current organizational policies, procedures, and technologies working or not contributing to the achievement of transparency and value goals?  

 3. Invest in a digital infrastructure   

Data is the backbone of a top-performing supply chain. Yet, while data may be widely available, a lack of integration hampers analytics capabilities. Shockingly, in many cases, external organizations that sell to hospitals may have more transparency into a hospital’s fiscal footprint than the hospital itself. But investing in digital infrastructures allows the supply chain to function with a competitive level of awareness, making goals like compliance and cost avoidance achievable. For those who still use spreadsheets, cost-benefit analysis can only go so far, and emergency situations can expose a dangerous breakdown in hospital operations.    

When it comes to making operations practical, digital dashboards are equipping supply chains with the tools necessary to drive strategic decision making, not just audit information. When data-backed software is used at the points of evaluation and decision—for instance to process and evaluate product requests or create access management policies—analytics become operational and promote process standardization.

Another key benefit of a digital infrastructure is the newfound level of flexibility that allows the supply chain to increase an organization’s reaction speed and pivot quickly when needed. Spend management software can be the strategic partner necessary to add value, increase standardization across the continuum, optimize contracting, streamline new product introduction, maintain continuity, and integrate clinical evidence to mitigate risk, protect governance, and ensure compliance.   

Ultimately, a digital strategy that replaces manual processes to deliver definitive value can significantly boost supply chain strength. To learn more about how clinical alignment, increased transparency, and digital tools are positioning supply chains to lead in the healthcare innovation journey, request a demo here. 

At the juncture of opportunity and critical need, there has never been a better time to recognize hospital supply chain professionals for their strategic partnership in supporting healthcare longevity. We look forward to celebrating National Health Care Supply Chain Week for years to come. Thank you to all the professionals who make patient care possible every day!    

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