Observation Deck: Big Picture View

This year’s “Ten People to Watch in Healthcare Contracting” demonstrate what supply chain executives can be. Price-sensitive, certainly. But cost- and quality-sensitive too. As always, the most successful supply chain executives are those who work well with the clinical and administrative teams.

Richard Blackburn, assistant vice president for support services at CaroMont Health in Gastonia, N.C., is a case in point. Blackburn has been at CaroMont since 1986, and spent 17 years in materials management – nine of them as director. He assumed responsibility for support services in 2010.

He credits much of his success to an outstanding team, starting with Ray Grant, purchasing and logistics director. “Ray…and his team deliver value to CaroMont Health through effective cost management and exceptional customer service,” says Blackburn. “His team’s robust negotiation strategies and contract management processes support our mission to provide exceptional healthcare to the communities we serve.”

What’s noteworthy about CaroMont is the collaboration between support services and the clinical team. That collaboration, or alignment, seems to be what today’s and tomorrow’s healthcare delivery system demands.

“Perhaps the most rewarding aspect is receiving a call from a neurosurgeon, cardiologist or orthopedic surgeon asking for our advice about how to control cost,” says Blackburn. “They respect our contribution to patient care and quality outcomes.

“We did not arrive at this point without a few scratches and dents along the way, and a vendor or two that no longer service our organization,” he adds.

In the past couple of years, says Blackburn, alignment with CaroMont’s four neurosurgeons resulted in the prime vendor for spine instrumentation – which had enjoyed as much as 95 percent market share – losing its entire share. “When the vendor did not acquiesce to our pricing expectations, the neurosurgeons instructed us to exclude the vendor from further business at CaroMont,” he says. “Clinical quality and service levels did not diminish at all.”

“Materials management intends to be central in the comparative-effectiveness paradigm to promote individual health,” he says. What’s more, “materials management must source products and services for physicians and nurses to enable them to improve patients’ chronic and acute conditions, assisting to prevent unnecessary readmissions.” That’s a broad view of the support service role in any IDN.

“Hospitals and providers will continue to confront the mandate for quality,” says Blackburn. And he is adamant that his team will be part of that effort. “The supply chain professional must actively support total value management – sourcing the right technology and employing the right process to drive cost-to-quality value for patients, providers and the organization.

“The supply chain expert will be instrumental in defining the total cost of technology, a device or supply item in relationship to its clinical efficacy and financial value,” he continues. “The supply chain professional has an opportunity and a responsibility to be an essential contributor to improving healthcare delivery and wellness.”

That’s a big-picture view of support services. And it’s probably the best attitude to adopt as all of us look to the future.

About the Author

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.