'We've come to expect the unexpected:' 6 supply chain leaders on backorders

While backorders have always been a possibility with specific manufacturing issues, domestic and global factors have exacerbated the issue for healthcare systems across the U.S.

Steve Pohlman, executive director of clinical supply chain at Cleveland Clinic, told Becker's the system is seeing 10 times the backorder occurrences they were prior to the onset of the pandemic. 

"The types of items are widespread and diverse, ranging from construction materials, maintenance repair items and furniture to medical supplies and services," he said. 

Burton Fuller, vice president and chief supply chain officer at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Health System, also said backordered items vary at the system. For Jack Hahn, vice president of supply chain, and Jesse Stanton, director of supply chain integration at Fort Wayne, Ind.-based Parkview Health, plastic supplies, such as suction tubing and electrodes, are currently bearing the brunt of supply chain problems.

"We've come to expect the unexpected when it comes to dealing with any of our backorder issues," Mr. Stanton said.

Nausheen Ahmed, director of supply chain optimization, and Jerry Dea, executive director of supply chain resiliency at Los Angeles-based Cedars Sinai, said while the system is dealing with backorders, the issue hasn't impacted patient care. 

"We have not canceled any procedures or compromised the quality of patient care even with backorders and supply shortages," they said in an email to Becker's.

Ms. Ahmed and Mr. Dea attribute the lack of care disruption to key strategic moves they implemented, including a collaborative planning, forecasting and replenishment process with the system's prime distributor to "to gain visibility to stock levels by item across major supply points and drive improvements in demand and supply planning." 

"Our warehouse has [also] served as a tactical advantage to stock back-up supplies of fast-moving and critical items," they said.

Maintaining clear and consistent communication with distributors has enabled other systems to tackle the issue as well. 

"Our primary distributor is Medline, but we also look at other sources," said Mr. Hahn. "Sometimes we buy direct from the manufacturer and bypass distributors so we can get them quicker."

Mr. Stanton said Parkview has a list of "primary go-tos" when dealing with backordered items. 

"We have a primary distributor, but we have accounts with all of the other major distributors like Owens and Minor and Cardinal and Concordance," he said. "So we do reach out to our known partners, but not as much lately as we had before. That list would get pretty deep when those distributors are encountering the same problem." 

At Johns Hopkins, Mr. Fuller said the system has taken a multifaceted approach to dealing with the issue, including implementing the CentralSight supply chain analytics tool, a collaboration with Deloitte, Atrium, NYU Langone Health, and Providence.

The program consists of a "one-of-its kind" technology that "autonomously illuminates" supplier networks for critical supply categories.

"This allows us to see relationships between our suppliers and their contract manufacturers and the providers of raw materials that they rely on," he said. "[It also] allows us to proactively diversify to reduce risk where needed, but most importantly allows us to see which suppliers and trade relationships are impacted by the aforementioned disruptions." 

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