By Khatereh Calleja, JD, president and CEO of the Healthcare Supply Chain Association
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every aspect of the American healthcare system, placing unprecedented pressure on hospitals, nursing homes, physicians, and the healthcare supply chain. Physicians and other healthcare providers are facing a number of challenges, from trying to find ways to effectively treat patients while conserving critical supplies, to coordinating with public health authorities, to constantly updating treatment plans in light of new COVID-19 data. As the sourcing and purchasing partners to America’s acute and non-acute healthcare providers, healthcare group purchasing organizations (GPOs) play a critical role in emergency response efforts and have been working around the clock alongside healthcare providers to help address and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard patient care.
GPOs have provided critical support and guidance to hospitals and healthcare systems throughout the pandemic, assembling dedicated communications teams, providing training to clinical teams, and creating a dedicated war room of staff working continually to provide timely updates on the latest public health protocols, product supplies, and more. GPOs have also helped hospitals and health systems institute preventative measures in facilities and nursing homes, including regular temperature screenings, closing dining and common areas, establishing regular checkpoints and mask distributions, and other integral measures in our fight against this pandemic.
To help ensure healthcare providers have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other critical medical supplies, GPOs have pursued a number of actions such as supply coordination efforts to help medical teams obtain products and support surge capacity, adding new manufacturers to contracts to rapidly increase supplies, and working with non-traditional and adjacent industries to fill supply gaps for essential products such as hand sanitizer, isolation gowns, and surgical caps. When a hospital’s standard distribution channels were unable to supply N95 masks, the hospital’s GPO worked to secure a substantial supply of N95 masks from a U.S. industrial chain retailer.
GPOs’ fierce commitment to quality has also helped to protect member hospitals from purchasing counterfeit or inferior goods, serving as a significant line of defense in surge situations by helping to vet new manufacturers for compliance with standards set by the FDA and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). GPOs have also been advocating for legislative solutions like the Safeguarding Therapeutics Act, which enhances the FDA’s authority to destroy counterfeit drugs and medical devices at American ports of entry, preventing such products from entering the supply chain to help support .
As an industry with a proven track record of providing critical support during emergencies like Hurricane Harvey, the California wildfires and the Ebola outbreak, GPOs understand firsthand just how critical public-private coordination and collaboration is for ensuring a comprehensive response. That’s why GPOs have been working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), FEMA, and healthcare stakeholders to provide data on surge capacity, streamline communication, and identify and mitigate potential shortages related to the coronavirus.
As America’s healthcare providers continue to work to treat and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, GPOs will be alongside them to provide critical support and enable continued patient access to high quality, affordable healthcare.