Observation Deck: Adapt and Act

Journal of Healthcare Contracting readers are an enquiring group. The very fact that you take the time to read periodicals such as this one demonstrates it. And these days, there is plenty to read about, e.g., healthcare reform, hospital and physician alignment, and, recently, Medtronic’s decision to cancel some of its GPO contracts.

As Gary Corless, president and CEO of the physician distributor PSS World Medical, said at the conclusion of the recent Distributor Insights conference, “There has never been a time when there were not a lot of changes.” But that’s OK, he said. “It’s time to adapt and act.”

Corless made the point that we live in a time of change. It is time to adapt and act. And we must do so even though we don’t have definitive answers in front of us, no clearly defined path to follow. For many, that’s an unsettling thought.

We seek clarity and direction, but sometimes, clarity means understanding that the definitive answer doesn’t exist, at least not yet, Corless said. At some point, we all must make our own judgments about the direction things are moving, and then move ahead.

Corless divides the world into three things: Stuff that’s hard to miss, stuff that’s easy to miss, and stuff we shouldn’t miss. Stuff that’s hard to miss includes macroeconomic challenges, about which we’re all aware, he said. “They’re not going to end any time soon.” And, at least as far as healthcare is concerned, these challenges predate the current recession.

Stuff that’s easy to miss? The most important one might be the fact that today is NOT the hardest time in which to make a living, regardless of what one hears on the radio or TV, said Corless. Just 60 years ago, we were recovering from a devastating world war, for example. And really, if we’re arguing with our spouse about whether the thermostat should be set to 70 degrees or 73 degrees, or whether we should get the high-def TV or not, things can’t be all that bad. “We need some perspective on the problems we’re facing. And if it ever feels like a burden, get in line behind the 16 percent who are unemployed, who would love to have your problems.”

And stuff we shouldn’t miss? For starters, how about paying attention to the opportunity in all the changes taking place today? In his remarks, Corless was speaking about physician-office distributors, who traditionally have considered their mission to be serving caregivers who happened to have businesses. “Now, we have the opportunity to service businesses that provide care,” he said. “We don’t want to take the heart out of it, but we have to help our customers see themselves that way too.”

IDN contracting executives have their own share of “stuff they shouldn’t miss.” One might be the opportunity to support their IDNs’ non-acute-care strategy. Another might be helping to trim operating expenses, either through supply cost reduction or the improvement of supply chain processes. And third? Developing a strategy to improve the acquisition and usage of physician-preference items by their physicians.

“There is the opportunity for reward, so long as we dare to admit to things that are going on, even if we don’t like them,” said Corless. “Now, adapt and act. That’s what we’re paid to do.”

Mark Thill About Mark Thill

Mark Thill is the Editor of The Journal of Healthcare Contracting and has been reporting on healthcare supply chain issues since 1985. He is a graduate of Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., and he received a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

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