Tech and the Healthcare Supply Chain

Tech and the Healthcare Supply Chain

Jeff Thompson, CEO Emeritus, Pediatrician, Gundersen Health System

Jeff Thompson, CEO Emeritus, Pediatrician, Gundersen Health System

It’s no surprise that technology advances continue to help us reduce costs and meet customer demand in every industry that has a supply chain. Healthcare is no different and those reading for sure have more technical supply chain insight than I do. But I do have a great deal of experience with helping to lead a large complex health system as it moved towards more complex integration across geographies and within the delivery of healthcare itself.

Many of our organizations have critical issues that demand materials, but few will be more fervent about having enough supplies than the nurse in an operating room, hospital ward or emergency department. They know at any time often unannounced a list of thousands of types of patients could show up and someone will ask them for a piece of equipment, a medication or supporting materials. A very famous activity in hospitals is the Olympic level art of hoarding and storing these “just in time items” that they fear will not make it to them just in time. Tons of material gets stored in ceilings, false drawers, personal lockers or anywhere they can to make sure that at no point will they ever miss a chance to take care of the patient or increase their chances of being criticized for not having what’s needed. Our ability to track supplies with bar codes and equipment with RFI all connected to an intra-net markedly enhanced the ability to improve efficiency and decrease the angst around potential “shortages”.

Another technologic evolution in Healthcare has been the broad adoption in most developed countries of an electronic health record. The original focus on lab tests and notes about care has expanded way beyond that to include financial, social and materials use information. The ability to connect the care delivered and supplies used with automatic replenishment is downright magical. Despite being standard in many business sectors…healthcare has lagged in this area and the connection of the health record to the supply need is a great win.

Another great movement in healthcare is the concept of moving from taking care of sick patients to taking care of the health of people in the communities. This movement towards the health of the population includes a responsibility of the supply chain as it tries to serve a mission of the organization and the communities.

As an example, many organizations do not realize that Healthcare produces almost 20% of the US gross domestic product and almost 10 percent of the air pollutants and greenhouse gases from its energy use. An equally large contribution is all the energy use that goes into medications and equipment. A study from the National Health Service in England felt these two where even more impactful than energy! In an attempt to decrease this impact and still provide low cost high quality products a group of major health care organization formed a business called the Green Health Exchange. The plan was to use the best technology to test products, distribute that information, advice buyers and move the whole industry to a safer more sustainable suite of products. More disciplined that just green stamping because it was claimed to be better, but tested in a consistent fashion, to be used in a more thoughtful way, and built so the disposal is less damaging to our communities. The Green Health Exchange group believed that there was no “way” and that all refuse had to go somewhere. We have been able to work with manufactures of equipment, furniture, office supplies, food distributors and many other areas to develop healthier products for a community at a reasonable cost with the less impact on the on the environment long-term. This is a commitment to better health not just delivering better health care.

Healthcare is almost never on the cutting edge of technology when it comes to business functions but it certainly is gaining ground in the areas mentioned. The supply chain leaders can be key members in improving the quality and cost of care as well as the total health of the community.

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