The results are in! Hospital staff report that better supply chain management leads to better quality of care

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The supply chain plays a critical role in hospital operations. We know this, but what we wanted to know is: How do hospital stakeholders gauge its importance, and how does it impact them day to day? What supply chain capabilities are critical for success? What supply chain challenges are hospital employees facing, and what changes would they like to see?

Supply chain leaders strive to understand these different perspectives in order to ensure the supply chain is meeting needs and expectations, but it can be difficult to form a clear picture.

So Cardinal Health investigated — engaging with SERMO to conduct an in-depth survey of more than 400 hospital stakeholders to help fill in the gaps. Nurses, physicians, service line leaders, and supply chain administrators shared their first-hand experience with supply chain. The results — points of agreement and areas where stakeholders diverge — were illuminating. Here are our key takeaways.

1. Better supply chain management leads to better care quality and supports patient safety.
Respondents saw supply chain management as not only a key business tool, but also as an essential element in ensuring patient care: 58 percent of frontline caregivers recognized supporting patient safety (with tools like expiration and recall alerts) as a key benefit of inventory management.

Responses underscored the risks of inventory problems — nearly one in four (24 percent) hospital staff have seen or heard about expired or recalled equipment used on a patient. More than half (57%) of all those surveyed recalled a time when a physician did not have a product that was needed for a patient during a procedure. Most concerning, 18 percent are aware of a patient harmed for not having the right supplies at the right time.

Key takeaway: The supply chain is integral to supporting patient care as well as managing costs. Both are top priorities for hospitals.

2. Supply chain tasks take frontline providers away from patients.
We asked clinicians and administrators to name the number one thing they wish they didn’t have to do in their jobs. Across all stakeholder groups, the top answer was supply and inventory tasks.

Frontline clinicians say that they spend, on average, 17 percent of their workweek dealing with inventory issues. For a clinician who works four12 hour shifts, that’s more than two hours a shift spent on supply and inventory related tasks. Approximately two-thirds (65 percent) of frontline providers say that they’d trade this time to be with their patients.

One in three service line leaders (32 percent) also report that the main task that they wish they didn’t have to do is supervise the supply chain.

Surprisingly administrators are frustrated, too — 59 percent ranked supply and inventory tasks as the part of their job they wish they didn’t have to do. Clearly, their roles are expanding. Finding automated solutions that save time and money adds value to understanding the enterprise.

Key takeaway: Clinicians appreciate the value of supply chain management but are frustrated with the day-to-day demands of supply chain tasks. For administrators, the supply chain is about much more than these laborious tasks. They want to focus on supply chain insights and strategy that will truly move the organization forward.

3. Financial challenges are still the top priority for hospitals.
As in last year’s survey, respondents highlighted financial needs as a key focus. The majority of respondents (64 percent), on an unaided basis, identified financial demands as the single greatest challenge facing their organization, and 54 percent of administrators ranked managing costs as the number one element to the organization’s success. Finances were top of mind for many clinicians as well — 45 percent of service line leaders and 39 percent of frontline clinicians ranked managing costs as the number one element for their organization’s success.

Respondents drew a strong connection between these challenges and the supply chain. In fact, respondents estimated that their organizations could save more than $500,000 using new, automated, data-driven supply chain technology, rather than manual solutions. For those that are in larger organizations, that number could be more than double.

Key takeaway: Hospital stakeholders are consistently concerned about financial challenges. Supply chain improvements, like the adoption of automated technology, could be the key to saving costs for larger organizations.

4. Process improvements are long overdue.
Responses showed that current inventory management processes fulfill basic needs, but leave a lot of room for growth and improvement, especially regarding cost and enterprise management.

Overall, respondents identified a lack of urgency around updating the supply chain and introducing solutions that would address manual inventory management challenges. Approximately six in ten respondents believed their facility had not introduced a new inventory management system in at least six years or didn’t know if it ever has been changed. Overall, respondents gave their existing system low scores on ability to benchmark as well as visibility into the state of inventory.

Key takeaway: Many stakeholders see legacy systems as “good enough for now,” but they recognize the cost of these systems’ limitations.

5. Competing priorities hold back progress.
Survey respondents drew a clear connection between the supply chain and core hospital objectives. Most respondents (76 percent) said the supply chain was critically important to addressing the key challenges they see in their organization.

So why are so many hospitals slow to adopt automated systems given the importance of effective supply chain solutions to supporting patient care and managing costs? Respondents noted other priorities, perception of high costs, and getting buy-in as the top three barriers.

The responses also suggested many stakeholders aren’t familiar with all supply chain and inventory technology options. Overall, 34 percent of respondents were not familiar with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, and only 10 percent said they were very familiar with it. However, the half that has heard of RFID technology recalled mainly positive ideas associated with the technology, while only 9 percent have negative associations.

Key takeaway: Limited knowledge of automated solutions, along with the perceived barriers to addressing supply chain challenges, illustrate the need to educate stakeholders on the tangible return on investment of supply chain improvements.

Going forward…
Frontline clinicians, service line leaders, and administrators weigh the importance of the supply chain differently, and they face a different set of challenges. But they agree that the supply chain has a major impact on their hospitals top priorities: managing costs and quality of care.

It’s essential to bring stakeholders together to understand options for improving supply chain processes and to quantify the benefits of these improvements, not only for the bottom line, but for patients and employees as well.

To learn more, watch the video below: 

About Cardinal Health Supply Chain Survey
This study was fielded Oct. 19 - Nov. 4, 2016, using an online survey methodology. The samples were drawn from SERMO’s Online Respondent Panel of Health Care Providers, which includes over 600,000 medical professionals in the United States. The study included 403 respondents total, including frontline healthcare providers in hospitals (n=201), service line leaders in hospitals (n=100), and hospital/supply chain administrators (n=102). All survey data on file at Cardinal Health.

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