Room for improvement: 3 key findings from our latest supply chain survey

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The vast majority of hospital clinicians and department managers understand that supply chain management is critical to controlling costs. But they also think they spend too much time on supply chain tasks—and many say the work takes away from patient care.

These are just two on a long list of findings from a new Cardinal Health survey of frontline providers and hospital supply chain decision-makers. On the heels of a recent analysis showing that simple improvements to supply chain processes could save the typical hospital nearly $10 million per year, Cardinal Health polled more than 300 industry professionals about their own supply chain experiences and challenges. Conducted online in January 2019, the survey of clinicians, administrators, supply chain managers, and others revealed supply chain issues can have a significant impact on everything from staff morale to an organization's bottom line.

“I think the biggest thing we learned is that supply chain-related work can become a problem for clinicians," said Lori Walker, vice president of Distribution Services at Cardinal Health. “They recognize the importance of a strong supply chain because they can see how it helps them do their job. But they also view this area as mostly out of their control, and when issues come up, that can lead to a lot of stress.”

Here's a deeper look at three of the main findings from this research.

  1. Manual processes take away from patient care

One of the survey’s most important findings was that there are many inefficiencies in supply chain management processes. Forty-nine percent of frontline providers said they manually count and track supplies, and nearly the same number (46 percent) said this has a “very” or “somewhat” negative impact on their workplace productivity.

Along similar lines, nearly three quarters (74 percent) of physicians, nurses, and other clinicians said the time they spend searching for supplies that should be readily available has the biggest negative impact on their workplace productivity. And department management personnel agreed with them, with more than eight out of ten (84 percent) in this cohort voicing the same complaint.

Finally, while most frontline providers indicated they’d like to have a more active role in supply chain decision-making (mainly because of its impact on job satisfaction and productivity), 42 percent said the process is too time consuming and inevitably detracts from patient care. Overall, the survey found, frontline clinicians devote five hours to supply chain management each week—three hours more time than they’d prefer. And department managers are similarly spread thin by such tasks: They’re spending nine hours per week on supply chain work compared to their average preference of four.

  1. Supply chain issues frustrate healthcare staff

The survey’s second significant finding was that many respondents feel powerless to improve the supply chain deficiencies that impact them in their daily work. Two out of three respondents overall said they’ve seen clinical staff become frustrated by a supply chain issues; and when asked about the supply chain tasks that affect their jobs, 31 percent of frontline providers felt like those tasks are out of their control.

Similarly, 25 percent of respondents overall called the supply chain work at their organization a “necessary evil,” and one in five said supply chain management “stresses them out.” (These numbers were the highest among department managers, at 31 percent and 25 percent, respectively.)

  1. Hospital staff believe the supply chain can impact financial success

If the first two findings highlight the potential pitfalls of poor or inefficient supply chain management, the third offers insight into possible solutions. Among all survey participants, more than half (54 percent) said the biggest challenge their organization faces today is rooted in the financial security of its operations. Meanwhile, the survey found, nearly all respondents (94 percent) felt that better supply chain management is “very” or “somewhat” important to addressing cost concerns.

The path forward

Survey participants widely agreed that health system partners can help address the supply chain challenges, with (88 percent) saying that it’s “very” or “somewhat” important that their medical/surgical distributor play a bigger role than it currently has in facilitating seamless operational performance.

That distributor, nine out of ten respondents said, should be willing to work with them to serve patients more effectively and should make recommendations with “the patient in mind.” And many (32 percent) agreed that an automated inventory management solution should play a significant part in the supply chain process. Such systems would help them reduce costs, they said, and they’d likely reduce the work that’s required of them as well.

“The bottom line is hospital staff and leadership alike agree that there is room for improvement in health systems’ supply chain management, but they’re also optimistic that improvement is possible,” Walker said. “We think stakeholders should see this as an opportunity. It’s a chance to step up and give providers what they want, including solutions that better support patient care.”

(Originally published May 7, 2019 on Cardinal Health Essential Insights)


About the Cardinal Health Hospital Supply Chain Survey

The survey was fielded January 16-28, 2019, using an online methodology. Samples drawn from SERMO’s online panel of health care providers included 306 total respondents from various health care organizations working in the following roles: “frontline” clinicians, including surgeons, nurses and physicians (n=81); hospital administrators, including hospital management, vice presidents, senior directors, “C-suite” personnel, and equivalent titles (n=75); supply chain decision makers, including vice presidents, supply chain managers, nurse managers, operating room (OR) nurses and purchasing agents (n=75); and procedural department management personnel, including chief medical directors, catheter lab managers and OR/theater managers (n=75). 


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