Transforming the face of healthcare delivery

Laurel Junk seeks end-to-end supply chain management within Kaiser Permanente, and beyond it as well.

Laurel Junk may be relatively new to the delivery side of healthcare, but her longtime healthcare industry roots on the manufacturing side have positioned her well for her role as Kaiser Permanente’s vice president of supply chain. Prior to joining Kaiser Permanente 2 ½ years ago, she served as vice president of supply chain and contract manufacturing at biotech firm Amgen. Prior to that she was vice president, global supply chain for Johnson & Johnson’s Medical Device & Diagnostics Division; and she has held positions in supply chain, finance, and systems at IVAC Medical Systems and Eli Lilly & Co.

A major transformation
Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, serving over 8.9 million members, with headquarters in Oakland, Calif. It comprises 36 hospitals, more than 500 medical offices, and nearly 16,000 physicians.

Junk’s responsibilities at Kaiser Permanente are far-reaching, including oversight for materials management, patient records management/warehousing, product distribution, transportation and courier management, print shop/document service operations, mail services, and product support (contract conversion and implementation within the medical facilities). She also oversees the national supply chain strategy where she has been leading a major initiative to drive end-to-end supply chain integration and standardization within the various medical facilities as well as across all regions and departments.

“We have made significant inroads over the last 24 months, including transportation centralization; the deployment of a new single-instance ERP system for purchasing and inventory management; improvement of our reporting capabilities; and alignment of the organization on the importance of end-to-end supply chain integration,” says Junk. “In addition, we are excited about a collaborative supply chain initiative we recently started with the top supply chain executives from Geisinger Health, Mayo Clinic, Intermountain Health, and Sisters of Mercy. Known as the Healthcare Transformation Group, the coalition is looking to bring our collective provider influence and passion to bear on accelerating healthcare supply chain transformation in the areas of improved patient safety, with better product identification and tracking, as well as significant supply chain processing efficiencies.

“We all believe the industry can and must move faster in our ability to electronically identify and track products from the point of care all the way back to our suppliers,” Junk continues. “Our initial focus has been on driving GS1 data standards adoption so that all products have readable barcodes and we can maximize electronic processing between all partners. To this end, last May we brought our top 20 suppliers together in St. Louis to review in detail their current status on data standardization and to develop plans, identify barriers, and agree on the best and fastest path forward. The energy of that session was incredible and we look forward to using it to accelerate the pace of GS1 data standardization to the benefit of all players in the healthcare supply chain.” By improving the way supply chain partners work together, she hopes to enhance supplier integration, demand planning and forecasting.

Well into her third year at Kaiser Permanente, Junk is enthusiastic about her organization’s internal opportunities as well. “We have to leverage our new ERP system capabilities, point of use product tracking and electronic medical record system to show how we can better manage inventory in areas such as the operating room, interventional radiology and cath labs,” she says. “We are in the process of piloting end-to-end supply chain management in the operating room, whereby we will look to develop better demand forecasting capabilities by linking the schedules in our electronic medical record (HealthConnect) with the supply requirements of the procedure card, along with the ability to track product usage at the point of care.” This should allow for improved service, while achieving lower overall inventory levels, she points out.

“We completed a proof-of-concept project with a very talented team of students from Carnegie Mellon last summer and are anxious to expand that work and institutionalize it into our processes. The most exciting part of this work is the opportunity to return extremely valuable clinical resources to what they were hired to do: serve our members and deliver the best care possible to our patients. This will also provide the foundation for even greater value as we work [toward] true evidence-based procurement and usage of our various supplies and equipment.”

A true partnership
To realize their goals, Junk and her team depend on supply partners that share their foresight and sense of urgency in addressing difficult issues. “The most important qualities we look for in our partners are alignment with our mission and goals; [their ability] to take risks and [be] accountable for performance in all areas; and patience [working] with very complex customers.” Selecting the right partners enables her organization to “be truly ready for the significant changes that are coming to our industry in the near future,” she says. “We are excited about these opportunities and welcome those that see the value of dealing with difficult issues for the long term [rather than] maintaining the status quo.”

In spite – and as a result of – the challenges currently facing the healthcare industry, administrators are being challenged to excel. The opportunities for growth and success are exciting, says Junk. In the next several years, “we will be required to really focus on evidence-based medicine and drive that through to the use of medical technology and supplies,” she points out. “Never before has it been so important that the supply chain be fully integrated into the strategic plan of the organization and [work] side-by-side [with] our clinical partners. We must step up our leadership capabilities at all levels in the supply chain to help ensure affordable quality healthcare for everyone. This will require a level of integration [beginning with] our suppliers on everything from tactical execution to strategic alignment, with data, on new and planned product technology.

“It will no longer be good enough to say something is new and improved. It will have to be proved, which will require close interaction among all partners in the healthcare supply chain. Data transparency from the point that a product or therapy is used to understanding how effective it has been and the total cost incurred will be paramount for those who want to succeed in the long term. Standardization and elimination of unnecessary variation in practice, products, and processes will [drive] this wave of change.

“Supply chain is in a great position to help drive and enable many of these positive steps forward – something that we at Kaiser Permanente are extremely excited about. It won’t be easy. There’s a reason they say, ‘If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.’ But when we succeed, the rewards for our patients, our communities and our economy will be tremendous.”