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Scott Nelson
Senior Vice President of Supply Chain for Cardinal Health Medical Segment

There’s widespread consensus within the healthcare field that supply chain management is increasingly important, especially as the field moves in the direction of value-based care. Understanding the need for effective, efficient inventory strategies is one thing, but creating and implementing those strategies is very different task.

In an attempt to better understand the needs and impediments healthcare facilities face as they strive for quality supply chain management, Cardinal Health recently conducted a survey of those working in the field. By gathering this data, they can help administrators, surgeons, nurses and other healthcare professionals develop the best possible solutions.

To learn more, Surgical Products interviewed Scott Nelson, Senior Vice President of Supply Chain for Cardinal Health Medical Segment.

Why did Cardinal Health decide to study how the supply chain affects these three hospital stakeholders: supply chain leaders, service line leaders, and front line clinicians?

The supply chain plays a critical role across hospital operations, enabling the day-to-day work of different teams in varied ways. To form a comprehensive picture of the challenges and opportunities at every level, we wanted to understand the individual perspectives and insights of the key stakeholders: the supply chain administrators, the service line leaders, and the frontline physicians and nurses.

To ensure the supply chain meets everyone’s needs and supports the hospital’s overall vision, it’s critical these stakeholder groups understand each other’s challenges and priorities, so they can work together to make mutually beneficial improvements.

What were the key findings from your analysis?

We identified the key priorities for supply chain administrators, service line leaders, and frontline clinicians, as well as opportunities to work together to make improvements that benefit everyone.

  • Supply chain administrators focus on efficiency, prioritize savings, and generally hold positive views about existing supply chain operations.
  • Service line leaders focus on care, feel the impact of supply chain issues directly, struggle to get buy-in for improvements, and balance their priorities with the other stakeholders.
  • Front line clinicians prioritize patient care overall and face daily supply chain challenges, but may feel they are not in a position to suggest solutions.

By understanding what each stakeholder values most, supply chain leaders can adjust their approach to help their colleagues realize the tangible benefits supply chain improvements can bring.

The survey found that the majority of hospitals have not implemented a new inventory management system in at least six years, even though everyone appreciates the impact of the supply chain on quality of care, cost management, and patient experience. 

(Image credit: Cardinal Health)

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges to secure buy-in for hospital supply chain improvements?

Although most hospitals staff know that better hospital supply chain management leads to better quality of care and supports patient safety, they see legacy systems as “good enough for now.”

Competing priorities and limited information can hold back progress to improving the supply chain. Our survey suggested many stakeholders aren’t familiar with all supply chain and inventory technology options. Overall, 34 percent of respondents were not familiar with RFID technology, and only 10 percent said they were very familiar with it. However, those who have heard of RFID technology recalled mainly positive ideas associated with the technology, while only 9 percent had negative associations.

What are the shared priorities your survey identified as ones that can help service line leaders’ jumpstart the conversation and begin to move forward?

We found two shared priorities across supply chain administrators, service line leaders and frontline clinicians. All these stakeholders appreciate the importance of the supply chain in addressing organizational challenges and recognize that cost management is a huge enterprise challenges that needs to be addressed.  

We know that frontline clinicians prioritize the patient’s experience — seeing everything they do as a means to providing care. How can they be encouraged or what support do they need to be able to contribute to a more effective supply chain?

The first step is simply assessing how well their inventory system supports patient care. This starts with tracking how much time physicians and nurses are spending on inventory management each day, how often expired and recalled products are left on the shelf, how frequently clinicians don’t have the right supplies on-hand, and how regularly a patient is harmed due to a lack of necessary supplies.

(Image credit: Cardinal Health)

Your analysis found that service line leaders understand the real-life impact of the supply chain on patient care and managing costs, yet they also struggle to get buy-in for hospital improvements. What can service line leaders do to contribute to a more effective supply chain?

Service line leaders can start by assessing how well their inventory system supports patient care and impacts waste. For example, they can track how often the hospital accurately captures all supplies utilized in a procedure on the patient record, how much time physician and nurses are spending on inventory management each week, and the cost associated with an expired product being left on the shelf. 

To help both hospital administrators and clinicians assess how well their system supports patient care and advocate for a healthier supply chain, Cardinal Health has launched an Inventory Management IQ quiz at InventoryManagementIQ.CardinalHealth.com.    

Supply chain administrators are generally positive about current practices, but your survey results say that one in four hospital staff have seen or heard of expired equipment being used on a patient, with another 18 percent have seen or heard of a patient being harmed due to a lack of necessary supplies. As they come together with their clinician counterparts, how can they strike a balance in the conversation between cost management and patient care to move toward improvement?

The supply chain leader is in a unique position to facilitate conversations with all stakeholders. By understanding what each stakeholder values most, supply chain leaders can adjust their approach to help their colleagues realize the tangible benefits supply chain improvements can bring. For frontline providers, that’s improving patient care, and for service line leaders, that’s a combination of patient care and managing costs.

The bottom line is that an effective supply chain can benefit everyone by giving frontline clinicians more time to focus on patient care, reducing wasting, and providing greater visibility and insight to help drive more informed decisions.

How can these groups — supply chain leaders, service line leaders, and front line clinicians — collectively leverage supply chain automation and analytics to drive improvements?

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.

Automated technology today delivers supply chain data and analytics, which can support patient safety, reduce costs and improve workflows. For example, RFID smart cabinets and smart wands automatically count inventory in real-time and then transmit the data to a cloud-based online dashboard that can be viewed and analyzed by hospital staff.

With supply chain data, physicians and administrators can find out product pricing information before, during and after a procedure. This helps all hospital stakeholders — clinicians, supply chain decision makers and the C-suite — understand how one product choice can significantly impact the total cost of care delivery, which enables them to make more informed decisions when choosing supplies. Of course, the product leading to the best clinical outcome for the patient is the primary consideration, but when there is equivalency in outcomes, price may be a secondary consideration.

(Main photo credit: Molly Riley/Association Press)

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