Supply chain management is a buzzy topic in the healthcare field, which means it can also seem like a tired subject. The steady stream of more immediate challenges that confront medical professionals can easily shove “Get control of the supply chain” to the bottom of any to do list.

But the reality is that the choices made around the supply chain can have major repercussions for patient care. A recent survey conducted by Cardinal Health reinforced this fact.

To learn more about this new research, Surgical Products reached out to Scott Nelson, senior vice president of Supply Chain at Cardinal Health.

What do you think are the big takeaways from your recent surgery of supply chain management?

The survey revealed that many hospitals are experiencing patient safety issues that are preventable with supply chain improvements, yet respondents rate their inventory management processes as “good.” These findings are consistent with other research looking at never events, which are preventable medical errors.

For example, nearly one in four hospital staff have seen or heard of expired equipment being used on a patient.

Less time with the supply chain would mean more time with patients. Physicians and nurses currently spend, on average, nearly 20 percent of their workweek on supply chain and inventory management. If they could reallocate this time, more than half would spend this time with patients, while others would focus on research and education or training new staff.

These findings point to the critical need for a modern supply chain that is beyond “good.” More than half of hospital staff strongly agree that better supply chain management leads to better quality of care and supports patient safety. However, nearly one-third of respondents haven’t implemented a new inventory management system in at least six years, and another 25 percent don’t know if it’s ever been done.

In a field like healthcare, driven by innovation, advanced inventory systems could be the next frontier for improving care. Automated technology today delivers supply chain data and analytics, which can support patient safety, reduce costs and improve workflows. Right now, 78 percent of respondents are manually counting inventory in some parts of their supply chain, and only 17 percent have completed an automated technology system to track products and inventory in real time. 

(Image credit: Cardinal Health)

How does faulty supply chain management compromise patient safety?

Most hospitals today rely on manual supply chain management processes that require intensive staffing to handle multiple, redundant systems. These systems typically lack the data sharing and transparency necessary to provide hospital staff with vital information.

This manual approach and lack of visibility can also result in:

  • Expired and recalled product left on the shelf
  • Understocking supplies, which can lead to not having the right supplies at the right time

How can improved supply chain management impact the work of surgeons?

A more efficient supply chain better equips hospitals to manage products effectively, freeing up clinical staff from inventory management activities and allowing them to focus on patient care.

(Image credit: Cardinal Health)

The survey found that facilities are often slow to adopt new methodologies for supply chain management. Why do you think that is?

Many hospitals see legacy systems as “good enough for now,” even though they recognize the limitations of these systems. For instance, respondents identified a lack of urgency around updating the supply chain and introducing solutions that would address manual inventory management challenges.

Nearly one-third of survey respondents said it had been six years or more since a new inventory management system had been implemented. Another 25 percent didn’t know if a new system had ever been implemented. They also gave their existing system low scores on ability to benchmark as well as visibility into the state of inventory.

In addition, there is limited knowledge of automated supply chain solutions along with perceived barriers to addressing supply chain challenges. The survey found that other priorities, perception of high costs, and getting buy-in were the top three barriers to updating their inventory management system. The responses also suggested many hospital stakeholders aren’t familiar with all supply chain and inventory technology options.

This underscores the need to educate hospital stakeholders on the real return on investment of supply chain improvements. The good news is that we are seeing progress by supply chain leaders in this area, such as their increased participation in value analysis committees. However, ultimately everyone at the hospital plays a role in advocating for a healthier supply chain that will allow physicians and nurses to put their time to its best use: delivering high-quality care more effectively and efficiently.

(Image credit: Cardinal Health)

Generally speaking, when an updated supply chain management solution is implemented, what is the learning curve like for staff? How long is it before a facility would start seeing clear benefits from an upgrade?

The learning curve is low; the solution is designed to integrate with clinical workflows and supply chain activity.  In addition, we work very closely with customers to ensure they have multiple support options as they transition. 

Customers can begin to see benefits immediately after the install:

  • Identification of recalls and expired products from day one.
  • Increase in charge capture
  • Data capture, including usage, spend, case type, etc.
  • Easy documentation from point of use
  • Inventory visibility and order management improvement

Anything else you’d like to add?

Healthcare is very complex and the supply chain is heavily fragmented. Progressive health systems are investing significant organizational resources with the confidence that optimizing their supply chain will have long-term benefits for both patients and their businesses. For hospital staff advocating for a healthier supply chain, their first step is simply to assess how well current inventory systems support patient care.

Cardinal Health launched an Inventory Management IQ quiz at for supply chain decision makers, along with resources to help them advocate for a healthier supply chain.