While meeting the demands of an emergency, supply chain teams will also need to anticipate future needs
The Journal of Healthcare Contracting asked Vizient for insights into how the organization and its members are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Responding to JHC’s questions were Steve Downey, group senior vice president, supply chain operations, Vizient, Inc.; and Julie Cerese, group senior vice president, performance management and national networks, Vizient, Inc.
The Journal of Healthcare Contracting: Can you provide us with some insights of what is going on at hospitals and health systems as it relates to their supply chain teams? What conversations are they having right now?
Steve Downey: Most of the conversations are centered on supplies, especially critical ones – how many days on hand do they have for masks, gowns, ventilator parts, etc. Supply chain teams are trying to get ahead of what materials they need as their hospitals ramp up to provide care and how they’ll get those in these times of short supply. They are reviewing what practices clinicians are implementing to conserve supply and vetting suppliers that seemingly come out of the woodwork. They’re working to confirm deliveries, as some locations are right on the edge of stock outs and arrival times matter. We are also seeing members and local sites setting up emergency operations and increasing bed capacity quickly. Those emergency sites need supplies, logistics and labor and their unique requirements put pressure on the supply chain.
JHC: How are you advising hospitals and health systems to navigate any supply disruptions?
Downey: We are advising supply chain teams at member hospitals to conserve where they can and to check our Disaster Preparedness page regularly for the latest updates and information. Vizient continues to explore alternative supply resources and make that information available to members as soon as possible. In addition, we are encouraging members to keep forward-looking in order to project what stock they will have and what stock they will need so that suppliers can react to their best abilities.
JHC: What are a few things that every supply chain team should being doing today as a result of COVID-19?
Downey: Clear communication with key stakeholders is a major factor in successfully working through a disaster. Every supply chain team should know what supplies are critical to the care of their hospital’s COVID patients and stay on top of the days-on-hand of those materials. Working with clinical teams, they should set up conservation practices on scarce supplies. When they have challenges, they can rely on Vizient contacts and resources such as webinars and newsletters, for key information. Most importantly, they should take every step possible to keep their clinical teams safe and healthy, as these are difficult times.
JHC: How should supply chain teams be planning long-term?
Downey: Supply chain teams should make their plans with a focus on resiliency because it ensures supply continuity for the long term. Vizient will soon roll out a new platform to members that will create a “two-sided” marketplace for healthcare organizations and suppliers to map supply sources, risk points and create transparency through the supplier and provider chain. The platform will help supply chain leaders at hospitals recognize areas where supply may be constrained, at risk because of single geographic origination or with a vendor having fill-rate challenges, so they can make the necessary adjustments for supply chain resiliency within their organization.
JHC: In what ways do you think COVID-19 is transforming how healthcare is provided?
Julie Cerese: To prepare for COVID-19 patients, healthcare providers quickly cancelled elective surgeries and procedures to marshal resources for the coming surge. They quickly began to assess, train and re-deploy staff to support critical areas such as emergency departments and ICUs.
Organizations quickly moved to assess the facilities they own, such as closed inpatient areas, operating rooms and conference rooms and develop plans to convert those areas to needed patient care areas. Hospitals have also worked with local, state and federal health authorities to develop regional approaches to care that can support patient surges. Some Vizient members have repurposed their ambulatory practices to serve as COVID-19 testing and treatment sites, helping to preserve hospital capacity for the sickest patients.
As healthcare providers have responded to this crisis, they have made major progress in improving access to healthcare for patients. When restrictions were lifted to make telehealth more available, many providers made it the first stop of the triage process, stopping patients from arriving and overwhelming the emergency department. This has helped providers and patients to become more familiar with telehealth as a future option for their health care needs.
In addition because of critical shortages of PPE, healthcare providers have quickly stood up new and innovative processes to ensure PPE is available for front-line caregivers. This has included developing new sanitation processes, or cohorting patients in a way that enables PPE to be used longer by staff. Vizient has held weekly webinars and has been collecting practices from its members in order to improve knowledge transfer in this area.