Providers tell suppliers how it is

Issues on the table at HIDA Streamlining Healthcare

What’s top of mind for providers is often top of mind for their distributors too. What if the two achieved some peace of mind together? Providers appear to be open to the idea, especially as health systems expand and become more complex to manage.

That much was evident during two panel discussions at the HIDA Streamlining Healthcare Expo & Business Exchange in Chicago, IL, this fall. (HIDA is the Health Industry Distributors Association.)

The first, “Improving distribution and logistics in health systems,” featured:

  • Mark Campbell, vice president, supply chain, Tampa General Hospital
  • Mike Hopkins, vice president, supply chain distribution and logistics, Northwestern Memorial Health Care
  • Josh Andrade, director, supply chain shared services, HonorHealth
  • Brian Zuck, vice president, supply chain, Essentia Health

The second, “Innovative strategies for managing the non-acute supply chain,” featured:

  • Jevon Hawkins, regional director, supply chain, Wellspan Health
  • Jean Llewellyn, director, supply chain management, non-acute, MedStar Health
  • Darrick Adams, director non-acute supply chain, AdventHealth
  • Callie Klump, senior director supply chain logistics, Texas Health Resources

Some key takeaways for distributors and providers.

  1. Standardization of product and processes is a big – HUGE – challenge for supply chain executives as their health systems acquire hospitals, physician practices and other non-acute care sites. Some supply chain executives rely on their GPO for help in this area, others look to their distributor to help lead the charge, particularly among non-acute-care sites. One supply chain executive at the conference recounted assembling 12 physician groups in a locked room for three days of uninterrupted, heart-to-heart talk about standardizing.
  1. Direct-ship manufacturers aren’t helping matters. One supply chain executive half-joked that he’s considering charging rent to direct-ship manufacturers whose consigned implants clog valuable space in the hospital. Distributors might help by serving as a 3PL for direct-ship manufacturers – though that’s easier said than done.
  1. Keeping tabs on purchasers in 400, 500 or 600 clinics isn’t easy. Given the turnover of support staff in physician offices and clinics, supply chain VPs continually struggle with educating new hires on the ordering process, formulary management and inventory control.
  2. Physicians are getting it but they’re not quite there yet. Physicians still enjoy the freedom to choose what they think is best for their patients. Supply chain has to respond with data about outcomes and cost-per-case. And though it’s true that physicians are more tuned in to cost than ever before, they still believe that if the hospital charges for something, they get paid for it. “We do not,” said one supply chain executive.
  3. Customer service is just as important to supply chain executives as it is for distributors – and just as difficult. As health systems expand, so too does the number of clinical customers calling up supply chain about the status of an order or the reason for a substitution. The supply chain director’s task is made tougher given the rapid turnover of staff in their department. How do you train people to greet callers courteously, respond openly to questions, and resolve issues – instead of kicking them down the road?
  1. From purchasing to utilization to demand planning. Health systems have a pretty good handle on what they buy, but they want to reach the next step. Using technology, they want information on what they use, who’s using it, and how much it costs per case. Some are willing to work with their distributor in gathering and analyzing that kind of data.
  1. Cost-per-whatever. Health system supply chain executives are getting pushed by senior management to improve cost per unit of service, be that creation of a purchase order or a knee arthroplasty. One hitch: EMRs weren’t built with cost-per-case in mind.
  1. RFID is definitely worth a look. RFID technology helps providers first, to know where valuable assets are in real time, second, to reduce labor costs associated with tracking them down, and third, to avoid spending money on redundant items.
  1. Mr. or Ms. Robot. Expect hospitals to pilot-test robots delivering food service and even medical and surgical supplies to nursing units.
  1. Non-acute has traditionally been the stepchild of supply chain management for healthcare providers – and in a sense, it still is. One executive spoke of a “team of one” overseeing non-acute purchasing and distribution. That said, non-acute focused supply chain executives depend on support from their acute care contracting colleagues and senior management.
  1. Get the word out, even if it’s unpleasant. Supply chain executives with non-acute responsibilities know the value of good communication with distributors and clinicians, and the price of poor communication. It’s especially important to keep the lines open when it comes to informing hundreds of offsite facilities about backorders, conversions and substitutions.
  1. What is the secret sauce of a great relationship between distributor and non-acute supply chain vice president? Simple, trust.