'We can't view ourselves as the box pushers of a hospital': 3 experts discuss the evolving hospital supply chain

Healthcare's transition to value-based care is redefining supply chain management — making the practice a strategy hospitals can deploy to avoid adverse events, reduce clinician burnout and protect its bottom line.

At Becker's Hospital Review's 9th Annual Meeting in Chicago April 13, a panel of supply chain leaders — including Eric Tritch, executive director of strategic sourcing, supply chain at University of Chicago Medicine; Michael Hopkins, director of supply chain at Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine; and John Roy, vice president and general manager, Cardinal Health Inventory Management Solutions — discussed the challenges of integrating supply chain management as well as various opportunities with the practice of supply handling and product utilization that can drive clinical improvements and financial savings.

"We are at an inflection point when you look at inventory management … In a fee-for-service model … you were trying to push as much product [and] service through as you could," explained Mr. Roy. "Now, with the changing dynamic of value-based reimbursements and looking at the entire episode of care, inventory supply handling is becoming a much more integral platform for care delivery. Supply chain is taking on more ownership. It's not only taking on commodities, but it is also taking on devices and implants."

Value-based care redefined inventory management to encompass full supply handling and product utilization, because it is critically important to optimize patient safety with expiry and recall management, clinical and supply chain workflow efficiencies and overall waste reduction, Mr. Roy added.

Mr. Tritch discussed some of the challenges in this evolving hospital supply chain world.

"We always have issues … one is we put a lot of processes and technology in place, but maintaining appearance and sustaining these processes [is challenging]. It's implementing processes that work well and are easy to follow, but then the continued sustainment and reeducation to make sure those are followed. There's no magical system that completely makes it error- proof but you still need people and processes to simplify inventory management processes. "

Mr. Hopkins agreed with Mr. Tritch, adding that there are numerous challenges, but the opportunity for success, clinically and financially, with effective supply chain management far outweighs any challenges.

"My experiences with inventory management solutions have been tremendous … Things we've seen and achieved by partnering our processes with technologies have been outstanding … In about three months we were able to reduce waste and generate about $1.2 million dollars back. But it is important to note, technology can only do so much. You have to marry great technology with great programs [and internal or external talent]," Mr. Hopkins said.

All three experts agreed that there is a need to optimize and invest in supply chain management, which includes finding the best processes and finding the best people.

"As an industry we've looked way too long at supply chain as box pushers, people that deliver products and we have to stop that. Supply chain has to have investment and we have to get better people. We can't continue to view ourselves as the box pushers of the hospital … [That view] causes hospitals a lot of expense and risk ... We need to go in, be sales people for supply chain and talk to C-suite leaders about why we need to add more people, talent to [our] team. "

More articles on supply chain:
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FDA OKs 1st AI medical device that screens patients without physician interpretation

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