Managing a post-pandemic supply chain in healthcare

por John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 07, 2022
Business Affairs
From the January/February 2022 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

In 2020, healthcare distributors delivered over 51 billion personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies to providers on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19. Demand for these items, such as masks and gloves, was ten times higher than normal and led to a historically high distribution rate.

While PPE demand has stabilized, the medical supply chain has been rocked by the pandemic, with hospitals facing shortages of everything from crutches to catheters to gloves. Shipping and transportation disruptions have only made this situation more challenging.

“Distributors need a reliable transportation system to receive the critical medical supplies they deliver to providers like hospitals, physician offices and nursing homes,” Matthew Rowan, president and CEO of the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA), told HCB News. “This transportation unpredictability has negatively impacted patient care in a public health emergency,”

These challenging times have forced supply chain leaders to reevaluate their sourcing and distribution processes, and forced providers to seek out better ways of retaining critical resources. Many are reconsidering whom they do business with and seeking automated efficiency through the adoption of digital applications. The end goal for both is the same: to build a more resilient supply chain industrywide.

Problems in the chain
Early on in the pandemic, hospitals and other medical facilities urgently sought out, and stocked up on, PPE. That rush, combined with the postponement of elective procedures, led many to neglect or cut down on other supplies. Today, many are saddled with an excess of PPE that is at risk of obsolescence and lacking other urgently needed resources, says Jonathan Wright, global managing partner for supply chain consulting at IBM. “Elective surgeries have suffered due to shortages of medical devices in certain areas. Hospitals are recognizing the critical need for inventory visibility and intelligent ordering solutions.”

In November, a lack of its regular urine collection kits forced CentraCare, an integrated healthcare system in Minnesota, to rely on alternatives. They even had to order parts to construct their own so they could keep up with demand, according to a report in Kaiser Health News. Because some of the cups could not be moved through normal hospital tube systems, workers had to walk samples to the lab and sacrifice time with patients.

The current shortages in the healthcare supply chain are not strictly due to the pandemic, or even a lack of existing resources. Rather, it is transportation disruptions, with port backlogs, shipping delays and a lack of truck drivers preventing supplies from being delivered.

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