Healthcare Supply Chain Association Column

Healthcare Group Purchasing Organizations: Critical Partners in the COVID-19 Response Effort

June 2022 – The Journal of Healthcare Contracting

By Todd Ebert

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain hospitals, healthcare organizations, providers, and patients, the Healthcare Supply Chain Association (HSCA) has taken a comprehensive look at pandemic response efforts from group purchasing organizations (GPOs) across the healthcare sector in a new issue brief. GPOs have a proven track record of providing critical support during emergencies like Hurricane Harvey, the California wildfires, and outbreaks of infectious diseases.

COVID-19 has highlighted weaknesses across the healthcare supply chain, and GPOs have been among the first to respond, leveraging their unique insight to address supply issues and anticipate surges in demand. The following are just some of the ways that GPOs have helped stakeholders across the industry navigate the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years.

Building Essential Medications Lists Helped Avert Drug Shortages. Multiple GPOs compiled and identified lists of essential medications whose absence would threaten the ability of hospitals to provide immediate and high-quality patient care and shared the lists with government authorities. One GPO identified 200 essential medications, including 77 acute and chronic life-saving drugs that have no alternatives in the event of a supply disruption.

Demand Surge Notices Led to Increased Manufacturer Capacity. Communications from one GPO to manufacturers about anticipated demand surge resulted in expanded manufacturer capacity and an additional 17 million N95 respirators, 57.5 million isolation gowns, 2.1 million face shields, and 25.8 3-ply adjustable million cotton masks, among other products.

Supply Chain Resiliency Programs Resulted in New Manufacturers Coming to Market. Multiple GPOs launched programs aimed at increasing supply chain resiliency and redundancy to prevent shortages of critical products. One GPO’s program resulted in the availability of an additional 676,000 units of the sedative propofol. Another GPO added 40+ new manufacturers of COVID-19 supplies, signed more than 100 new contracts, and evaluated supplies from more than 2,500 brokers.

Vetting Prevented Fraudulent or Inferior Products from Getting to Caregivers and Patients. One GPO vetted thousands of leads and found that more than 90% were illegitimate. Another GPO vetted 2,400 new manufacturers to confirm registration with FDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Expanding to Non-Traditional Suppliers Helped Ensure Continuous Supply of Essential Products. By expanding partnerships beyond traditional healthcare vendors into non-traditional and adjacent industries, such as distilleries, textile manufacturers, steel and automobile manufacturers, and others, GPOs were able to help fill supply gaps for essential products such as hand sanitizer, face shields, isolation gowns, shoe coverings, surgical caps, and nasal swabs.

Collaborating with Public Authorities Resulted in New Policy Solutions. HSCA member GPOs worked with the White House and government agencies to get needed products to healthcare providers and provide recommendations regarding regulatory flexibility around telehealth, excluding key medical products from tariffs, improving supply chain visibility, supply strategies for PPE and more.

The innovative data-driven solutions developed by GPOs have helped thousands of patients get essential care and informed preparations for future public health emergencies. GPOs will continue to collaborate with industry partners and provide them with data, operational support, and logistical guidance to ensure a resilient healthcare supply chain that supports providers and patients.

Todd Ebert, R.Ph., is the president and CEO of Healthcare Supply Chain Association (HSCA).

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