A Vision for Healthcare Supply Chain: Insights from Key Industry Leaders

symplr's State of Healthcare Supply Chain Survey findings

I recently had the privilege of moderating a Becker’s roundtable featuring supply chain visionaries Doug Pylinski, VP of System Supply Chain Operations for AdventHealth, and Janie Ott, VP of Spend Management for The University of Kansas Health System. During our conversation, we discussed findings from our recent State of Healthcare Supply Chain Survey within the context of current market dynamics, evolving supply chain functions, and critical areas of strategic focus. 

Evolving beyond cost savings

In our State of Healthcare Supply Chain survey, assessing the most pressing challenges and priorities identified by supply chain leaders, 63% responded that cost savings is their organization's top supply chain priority in 2024. Considering pandemic-accelerated pressures, this is no surprise, especially as hospital executives look to supply chain teams to help protect spend.  

Despite this, we discussed the criticality of expanding our focus beyond cost savings alone to prioritize, not paralyze, strategy. This is particularly important when thinking about the evolving role supply chain teams play, the more diverse stakeholders we interact with, and the broader goals that demand our attention.  

As Janie Ott shared, “Cost savings can never leave what’s top of mind, and we always have savings goals… but, moving past that, we must look at and evolve our processes. We must ensure we’re always in a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, to not compromise our overall strategy.”  

Getting back to strategy requires getting back to basics  

Beyond cost savings, we asked our roundtable audience to share their biggest supply chain priorities for this year. 42% reported that standardizing processes was their biggest priority, followed by putting resources back into strategy (34%), rather than putting out daily fires.  

Standardizing our processes while prioritizing economies of scale, evidence-based decision making, and data governance are all fundamentals. As I like to say, if you don’t have your foundation in check, then you don’t have hope in moving forward strategically. Typically, we want to focus on growth, but what we often need is a deep dive into capacity and standardization to achieve balance between operations and strategy.  

Doug passionately spoke on the urgency of developing this balance, “Coming out of COVID, we were in firefighting mode. We have to get back to the basics from a foundational standpoint because a lot of our health systems are continuously looking for ways to either grow or reduce margin pressures. We need to be in a position that can support the growth of our systems and be agile and flexible when those times come.”  

Technology and decision-support tools are central components to standardizing processes, ensuring critical data is leading decision making, and freeing up teams. As Janie shared, “I think the introduction of technology and data has changed the way we do everything…In the next three years, we're going to invest, invest, invest in data because we must get this piece moving in a direction that industries outside of healthcare are moving in.” 

Expanding supply chain roles: from the basement to the boardroom  

Supply chain has been on an extensive journey of evolution. Previously, supply chain lived in the basement, but today, most hospitals and health systems have supply chain presence at the executive level. During our discussion, Janie shared, “Now we’ve evolved and expanded, so what’s our message? The message is, we’re evolving past a transactional supply chain.”  

For Janie, a growing scope of impact led to a title change as well from VP of Supply Chain to VP of Spend Management. She discussed how many in the industry are moving past supply chain titles and moving towards spend management as responsibilities grow. 

Emphasizing this shift, we asked our audience, “How has the scope of your supply chain role and responsibilities evolved in the past few years?” 81% responded they were very impacted, 17% responded they were somewhat impacted, and only 2% responded they weren’t impacted.  

As we think about increasing responsibilities, capacity is unquestionably a consideration. According to our survey, 1 in 3 said their supply chain team still isn’t fully staffed to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, 20% responded that staffing and resourcing was their supply chain’s top challenge in the past 12 months.    

As supply chains evolve from task-focused transactional models to a more strategic focus, the way we execute work must be examined so that efficiency and value are at the forefront. As Janie noted, “We may not get any more space, and we’re probably not going to get any more people, so how do we work differently?”   

Ultimately, when supporting supply chain evolution, we must stay focused on the why. “The piece I want to stress the most is that the patient is at the center of everything we do. Every decision - whether it be supply, the operational piece of supply, or the financial piece - it is what's best for the patient. I think that has been the piece that has made our program so successful,” Janie added. 

Breaking down silos means bringing people to the table  

Our survey results revealed that only 19% of supply chain leaders were very confident their clinicians were supportive of supply chain activities. Janie, Doug, and I are all passionate about clinical integration and outcomes, so we concluded our conversation by unpacking their approaches to achieving unity through partnership.  

Doug shared, “We've partnered with our Chief Clinical Officers, who are the clinical leaders over each of our divisions across AdventHealth. We utilize them to help guide, provide insights, and think about different strategies. We need to be thinking about how we engage our clinicians on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, and it's a two-way street. How do they help educate us? And, vice versa, how are we bringing them information that's valuable when working through new products and utilization type work?”  

When we break down silos, we can become consultants and trusted advisors across our organizations to share that financial expertise. For example, navigating budget constraints and the flood of “nice to have” requests help us think about how to look at our supply budgets differently. As Janie shared, “I love it when I get that phone call, and that service line leader says, I really want your advice. Will you look at my budget and give me some feedback? We are that internal consultant guiding on what to look at.” 

Watch the full conversation