How group purchasing organizations buttressed the supply chain during the pandemic

Policy makers are now assessing pandemic experiences from the healthcare supply chain, and seeking insights on how to harden the pipeline of essential medical products against unpredictable disruptions and unanticipated demands common to a Covid scale epidemic.

Supply disruptions threatened beleaguered providers- and the very fabric of the American health system.

Yet even as shortages of PPE,  medical equipment and the most basic healthcare supplies threatened emergency rooms,  clinics,  nursing homes and public health institutions,  front line providers received help from a largely unacknowledged source: healthcare group purchasing organizations (GPOs). As COVID-19 rates spiked,  GPOs brought expertise and new technology to crisis response. They partnered with government agencies and battered health systems to navigate unique challenges: sorting grey market suppliers; anticipating and tracking product shortages; responding to logistical snarls; advising managers of depleted stockpiles. GPOs were repositories of critical expertise for response to the pandemic crisis.

With the recent release of its 15th annual report, the Healthcare Group Purchasing Industry Initiative (HGPII), the longstanding self-regulatory organization for GPOs which promotes best practices and high standards, has assembled examples of actions GPOs took to provide needed medical supplies. Aside from these successes, readers will be left with a litany of lessons learned to strengthen the health care supply chain in the future. Furthermore, the milestone edition of the report highlights GPO responses to one of the biggest challenges facing health care institutions in early 2020: the need for medical grade PPE from international sources. In the face of rising COVID-19 rates, the nation’s GPOs were able to do what they’re best at: secure and deliver medical supplies.

The bad news about severed supply chains and empty supply shelves quickly landed in the inboxes of health care executives, and consumers around the nation quickly learned that the old ways of securing medical products were unreliable. The good news is that the nation’s GPOs were well equipped, with international sourcing teams and real time supply surveillance technology in place, to help coordinate a strategic response to the country’s medical supply needs. These innovations helped hospitals predict surges in patient volume, demand for ICU units, and implement early warning systems for looming supply shortages. More importantly, GPOs tapped into their networks of independent consultants and used internal expertise to research new international suppliers, assess their capability and the quality of their materials, and ensure safe transactions on behalf of their members which led to the delivery of sorely needed PPE.

With communities around the county facing long-term challenges due to flare ups of COVID-19, the nation’s group purchasing organizations will play an important role to ensure medical facilities have the supplies they need. Their recent work as intermediaries on behalf of medical facilities in need of supplies, and advisors to governments managing large and small stockpiles should be hailed as a success. Given the lessons learned last year, and the emerging supply challenges facing medical facilities today, GPOs need to skillfully plan, innovate, and work hand-in-hand with government agencies to prevent future supply shortages.


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