3 takes on supply disruptions, drug shortage timelines from Northeastern researcher

In an interview with Becker's, Boston-based Northeastern University mechanical and industrial engineering professor Jacqueline Griffin, PhD, shared some thoughts on why drug shortages have plagued the nation for years and ways to fix the supply chain. 

Dr. Griffin pointed to long-standing issues in the healthcare industry's supply chain, such as not enough competition between manufacturers and scarce transparency and communication between suppliers and front-line healthcare workers. 

Here are three main takeaways from the interview: 

1. COVID-19 isn't the main culprit

"COVID-19 is causing big challenges, but the thing we really need to be clear about is that there's systematic problems underlying the supply chain," Dr. Griffin said. "We need to be careful to not just blame it on the most recent disruption, because really what we're seeing is more and more disruptions and the problems keep on getting worse and worse. We need to step up and make a change and not just look for quick solutions or temporary solutions."

2. Suggested timelines for drugs in shortage are unreliable, increasing hospitals' costs 

"When you get a list of drugs that are currently on shortage, sometimes there will be a date that says, 'This is when we expect it to come back into stock.' Oftentimes, what we found looking through it, is the information is not very reliable," Dr. Griffin said. 

She added that whether the product comes in before it's expected or production hits another snag, either miscalculation can be costly to health systems that have developed a strategy only to throw it away after a hiccup in the supply chain happens. 

3. Transparency is necessary to grow business and ease the process

"Typically, the information about the supply chains of where the raw materials originally come in from, how things flow, [and] sometimes what manufacturing capacity even exists is typically held as a competitive secret or a competitive advantage, and therefore it's not really shared," Dr. Griffin said. "We don't have a real vision for what our resiliency or lack of resiliency looks like."

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