Four key takeaways from the 2016 AHRMM Conference

Our nation’s health systems remain focused on evolving in the face of change.

The Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management (AHRMM) Conference is always a great opportunity to gain insights into some of the industry’s most innovative approaches to improving healthcare delivery. To no one’s surprise, most of the conversation at the 2016 conference focused around the Triple Aim initiative – that is, the top three dimensions for optimizing the U.S. health systems’ performance: cost, care quality and population health. Here are my takeaways from the conference about how supply chain excellence helps achieve these goals in what has become the most costly healthcare system in the world1.

1. Evidence-based collaboration is key to driving engagement with clinicians.
We know that, to impact costs around product usage, the supply chain needs support from clinicians. When it comes to product standardization and other supply chain initiatives in procedural areas, a cost savings story without data-driven rationale is not enough to create alignment.

That’s why a number of AHRMM sessions underscored best practices for engaging clinicians. The most intriguing of these strategies emphasized data-driven collaboration.

For example, RFID and other leading technologies are being used to collect product usage data by clinician, procedure, patient and outcome. Equally as important, cloud-based analytics and dashboards are helping clinicians understand (and buy into) the reality that product standardization can improve efficiency, thus driving down the total cost of delivery without compromising care.

This kind of data-driven collaboration is proving that the greatest efficiencies can only be gained when supply chain experts and clinicians work together as strategic partners striving toward the Triple Aim.

2. Health system leaders are increasingly relying on supply chain efficiency in their quest to impact the overall cost of care.
Supply chain leaders have always been problem solvers, but this year’s AHRMM sessions showed an increasing number of health systems are embracing this truth and empowering their supply chain teams to enact new strategies to improve the overall cost of care.

Multiple speakers shared best practices for collaborating with colleagues and peers in order to improve supply chain processes – all with the goal of addressing accountable care challenges and gaining alignment with organizational priorities.

As I walked the show floor and took in the show sessions, I saw a far greater focus on this elevated, more strategic view of supply chain, including emphasis on automated solutions. These technologies address top-of-mind challenges for those in the hospital C-suite, including challenges with inventory management, administration, clinician engagement, and data analytics.

3. There’s renewed interest in expanding supply chain excellence initiatives – to the OR and beyond!
Through contracting and other initiatives, many health systems have harvested much of the “low-hanging fruit” when it comes to driving costs out of the system. Yet, estimates indicate that our industry could save at least $5 billion, annually through more effective management of physician preferred, high-value medical devices in the supply chain. This points to significant waste reduction opportunities in procedural areas.

Although physician preference has historically driven purchasing decisions in most procedural areas, health system leaders are increasingly realizing that this is the next frontier when it comes to driving down the cost of care.

This year’s AHRMM agenda reflected this reality with sessions focusing on everything from the need for OR cost transparency and strategies for reducing implant costs, to the emergence of ‘rep-less models’ for orthopedics and the role supply chain strategies can play in successfully implementing CJR initiatives. This greater openness to allowing new efficiencies in traditionally “hands-off” areas is critical to our continued progress toward driving down the cost of care.

4. Automation and the adoption of industry standards are increasingly valued for their potential impact on improving efficiencies and supporting patient safety.
In an industry where purchase history data alone is still widely used to forecast supply needs and trends, it’s no surprise to see a strengthening call for industry adoption of UDI and GS1 standards. These standards are the only way industry players can work together to develop the end-to-end data visibility that will enable a more efficient, patient-driven supply chain model – one that also supports regulatory and patient care initiatives.

Some presenters encouraged attendees to look at other industries – like retail – to see just how critical the adoption of these standards is to healthcare’s ability to leverage the power of information.

These common data standards will help improve inventory management, facilitate pricing accuracy and charge capture, and reduce other inefficiencies related to human error. They facilitate automated record keeping while enabling accurate information transfer between systems. They’re also critical to helping ensure expired or recalled products never get to a patient. And in cases when a product is subsequently recalled, these technologies will make it far easier – and faster – to trace products back to the patient.

Never before has the healthcare supply chain been transforming as fast as it is today. An effective healthcare supply chain can be more than a source of savings; we believe it’s a strategic tool for improving operating efficiency, safety, and quality of care. It was very encouraging to see this view reinforced at AHRMM 2016, with emphasis that we must continue to empower supply chain professionals to collaborate with the hospital C-suite, clinicians and other industry partners. Together, we can leverage information and emerging technologies to solve some of healthcare’s most pressing challenges.

Originally published on Essential Insights.

1National Healthcare Expenditure Projections, 2010-2020. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Office of the Actuary.

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