When you work in healthcare operations, it’s always important to make sure your doctors, nurses, and other staff members have the medical equipment they need in order to protect themselves and properly treat patients.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, clinics, private practices, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities found themselves facing unprecedented medical supply chain issues and shortages of a variety of equipment—most notably personal protective equipment (PPE), which put both their staff and their patients at a much higher risk of contracting and/or spreading the coronavirus.
There’s no denying that the medical equipment (ME) shortage in the US has been extremely challenging. But since President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, actions have been put into place to better handle those challenges moving forward—and with more private sector companies (including big names like Tesla and General Motors) mass producing everything from hand sanitizer to PPE to ventilators, hopefully, the ME shortages will be under better control soon.
But in the midst of these challenges and supply shortages, there’s also an opportunity to take a deeper look at your current supply chain management practices and improve your processes.
So the question is: what steps can you take to improve your current supply chain management, shore up your medical supplies, and streamline your operations to keep your staff and patients protected?
Consult with the professionals on the front line
If you work on the operational side of healthcare, you might think you know exactly what supplies your doctors, nurses, and health care workers need to do their job.
But the truth is, unless you’re on the front lines treating patients, there’s probably a lot you don’t know about which medical device your doctor needs or which medical supplies your clinic needs more of. And the best way to find out that information? Asking the professionals who are working on the front lines.
If you want to get deeper insights into any gaps in your healthcare supply chain, talk to your doctors, nurses, and other staff treating patients. Because they’re the workers in the trenches, they can give you real-time insights into how quickly supplies are being used, which supplies they need more of, and any issues they’re running into when treating patients.
So, for example, you might be focused on securing as many gloves as possible for your staff, But after talking to your nurses, you may realize that while there are plenty of gloves to go around, face shields would make a huge difference in their ability to treat patients—and your efforts would be better focused on trying to secure face shields for your medical team.
It’s also important to keep your clinicians informed of any potential shortages or supply chain issues; that way, you can work with your front line healthcare providers to come up with a strategy to keep them safe—while still providing the high-quality healthcare your patients need.
Collaborate with other healthcare facilities in your area
Individual clinics, offices, and facilities generally operate independently. But right now, it’s important for the entire healthcare system to come together and find ways to support each other—including on supply shortages.
Partnering with other healthcare facilities in your area can help to fill in gaps in both your and their supply chains—and get you both the medical equipment you need to protect your health care workers and patients.
Take New York as an example. From the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Andrew Cuomo took a statewide approach, which coordinated the sharing of key medical supplies, equipment, and personnel across the state, helping to supply heavier hit areas (like New York City).
And you can do the same to fill in the gaps for your healthcare facility—just on a smaller scale. So, for example, you might have plenty of gloves but are running short on protective gowns. If there’s another facility nearby that has plenty of gowns but is running out of gloves, you can exchange supplies—so that each has what they need to operate safely.
The point is, coming up with solutions to ME supply chain shortages can be easier with a little support—so coordinate with other health care facilities in your area to see how you can help each other.
Think outside of the box to fill in the gaps
As an individual, your ability to influence the medical supply chain is limited; for example, you can’t force companies to increase their manufacturing capability or produce the raw materials necessary for testing.
You can, however, make a big impact in filling the gaps in your medical equipment supply chain for your healthcare facility—it just may require you to think outside of the box.
So, for example, do you not have enough PPE for your front office staff? Move your check-in process outside; because the risk of outdoor transmission is so low, with face masks and proper social distancing, you can significantly lower the risks for both your patients and your staff. Or are you short on face shields for your nurses? Consult with local tech companies to see if they are able or willing to use 3D printing to create additional supplies to support your facility. Are you running out of N95 masks? See if there’s any way you can adjust your inventory management strategy to get more mileage out of your current supply—even if your current inventory management strategy has been in place for years.
Bottom line? The healthcare system hasn’t faced this kind of supply chain shortage in modern history; there’s no play book for how to navigate these challenges—and securing the supplies you need (or finding an alternative solution) is likely not going to be as simple as placing an order with your manufacturer. Instead, to find a solution, you may need to try something new—and something outside of the box.
Use these tactics to shore up your medical supplies—and protect your staff and patients
There’s no denying that the current PPE and medical supply shortages are frustrating and challenging. But with these tactics, you can start taking the necessary steps to secure more supplies for your facility, improve your supply chain management moving forward, and protect your patients, your staff, and yourself.