How to better predict supply needs for flu season

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way hospital systems prepare for the outbreak of viral infections.

The recent variation in personal protective equipment (PPE) demand has prompted suppliers, distributors and health systems to look at new ways to better predict inventory needs and develop pandemic preparedness plans that address the logistics of managing surge capacity and storing PPE.

As flu season quickly approaches, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it’s likely that healthcare providers will see a convergence between both flu and COVID-19 cases, as well as other respiratory illnesses. The unpredictability of the flu season introduces further uncertainty to inventory demand planning. To better understand potential supply needs for the upcoming flu and respiratory illness season, hospitals can use knowledge gained from the COVID-19 pandemic. With this in mind, here are two ways to better predict your supply needs for the upcoming flu season.

  • Leverage available tools. Strategize your PPE needs using the CDC’s recommendations on surge capacity, defined as “the ability to manage a sudden increase in patient volume that would otherwise severely challenge or exceed the present capacity of a facility.” Additionally, Cardinal Health has a PPE Blueprint* that highlights 44 products across 4 different product use categories: protect, diagnose, treat and vaccinate. These items experience significant demand spikes during COVID-19 and other pandemics, including a flu outbreak. Tools like these not only provide insights for better demand planning, but also allow your facility to strategize storage needs.
  • Stay up to date with weekly flu forecasts and adjust inventory requirements accordingly. One of the major hurdles health systems encountered in the beginning of the pandemic was lack of historical data. Lack of data made it difficult to adjust PPE forecasts quickly. When it comes to the seasonal flu, the CDC provides extensive weekly surveillance reports that can illustrate the PPE and needle and syringe implications for providers. Cardinal Health is also providing regular updates and information on our Respiratory Season 2020-21 webpage, including an article around understanding CDC resources.

You can't predict exactly how each flu season will unfold, especially as it intersects with the COVID-19 pandemic, but you take steps to better prepare for your flu-related inventory demands. Staying informed with all available data can increase the accuracy of your demand planning and ease the tension on your supply chain. Put a plan into place that effectively allows you to track and evaluate your hospital's flu response, so that despite what the flu season throws at you, you're better equipped to handle it.

For more supply chain insights, visit the Cardinal Health Supply Chain Center.

*A Cardinal Health sales representative can share this tool

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