Healthcare Purchasing News

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Inverting Supply Chain mindsets with future-ready thinking

Techniques, technologies may give standard practices a new look by 2030

SF Future Ready

Executives and professionals in healthcare supply chain gaze somewhat longingly at other industries for glimpses at what might emerge within their realm of influence in the coming years but maybe that’s a distraction and not the feared disintermediation that some fathom might occur. At best, it would foment disruption of the status quo.

During his popular educational session at AHRMM in late July, titled, “NextGen Supply Chain and Leadership Capabilities: Digital, Innovative and Disruptive,” Randy Bradley, PhD, Associate Professor of Information Systems & Supply Chain Management, Haslam College of Business at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said something rather profound and thought-provoking. Paraphrasing, he detonated this idea: What if [insert disruptor here] really isn’t looking to do what healthcare currently does, only better? What if [insert disruptor here] actually is looking to do what healthcare doesn’t?

Yikes. Talk about flipping the stereotype.

So, for example, if an organization such as Amazon (which was cited specifically) wasn’t really in the market to replace/supplant distributors, dot-coms, GPOs, shippers, supply chain management expertise within hospital settings, then what’s with all the hullabaloo the last few years? That’s the point. Instead of holding up Amazon as the paragon of the future-ready supply chain in healthcare — and rest assured, most people agree that Amazon does what it does fairly well — why not explore the gaps in current healthcare supply chain operational continuity that need to be filled, and by whom?

For some, new and emerging techniques and technologies will shape how the future of healthcare supply chain shakes out. For others, new and emerging mindsets and creative thinking will drive it first. And for others, it may be a combination of all of that against the backdrop of economic warfare where the desire for revenue generation and profit growth battles against the dread of reimbursement reductions and budget cuts.

Of course none of this supersedes mastery of the fundamentals of supply chain operations; that is, ensuring the right products in the right quantities are in the right places at the right times and for the right prices so that clinicians (e.g., nurses, etc.) don’t have to embark on a “vision quest” to locate them.

Among the variety of techniques and technologies that may or will redefine and reinvigorate healthcare supply chain operations within the next 10 years, which will emerge as a “need to have” versus a “nice to have?”

16 areas of advancement

Healthcare Purchasing News selected 16 of the trendy and true topics that have been tapping into the mindsets and operations of supply chain and garnered roughly the same number of industry experts and observers from the healthcare provider and supplier communities to weigh in with their impressions.

Neil Olderman, President, Innovative Health Strategies, and Partner, Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, looked at the list of 16 and agreed that all of the processes and products contribute to the future-ready healthcare supply chain because they all have a home or roots in the consumer world, used by consumers to enhance capabilities and efficiencies.

“In my view, this is the focus in healthcare’s next transformation, and the supply chain will not escape the scrutiny and the task,” Olderman noted. “How has the healthcare supply chain been designed to impact the patient experience in a positive way (driving lower cost, better outcomes and user experience, and enhancing the care and easing the consumer’s burden in accessing quality care)?

“All of these technologies and processes will be used in the next 10 years in healthcare and in the supply chain — and many are being deployed today,” he continued. “The driver will be the need to compete in a consumer-driven environment where patients are armed with price and quality information and the ability to seek care remotely through telemedicine and other similar capabilities. All of these processes and technologies become essential to addressing the needs of the patient/consumer in this context.”

Joe Pleshek, President and CEO, Terso Solutions, sees beyond real-time location and tracking.

“What does success look like? Success is the creation of a Real-Time Healthcare System (RTHS),” Pleshek told HPN. “This system uses situational intelligence to improve decision making around patient care and healthcare operations. It is able to sense the need for a change proactively and has the means to execute that change. It works to eliminate waste and latency, accelerate business processes, balance resources versus demand, improve care quality and the patient experience.”

Innovative Health Strategy’s Olderman insists that future-ready anything in healthcare will hinge on consumer demand and their demands.

“Every aspect of the healthcare provider business will be forced to answer the question: What have you done to better serve the consumer knowing that the consumer wants high-quality, affordable healthcare close to home that is easy to access? Every component of the provider enterprise will need to consider the question,” Olderman indicated.

“New products and technology or those used today in other industries will need to be developed or adopted where the consumer makes that same technology part of his/her routine or daily expectation,” he noted. “Being able to access your medical record today from a portal accessible on your phone is a perfect example of how something commonly used in non-health care settings (like banking) influences the standard healthcare needs to meet in a consumer-driven market. Therefore, avoiding eco-minded sourcing or failure to reduce the carbon footprint within health systems will be measured and evaluated by consumers over time.

“Being able to make a specific part or device needed to perform a procedure for a specific patient will lend itself to adoption of 3-D printing (putting aside the FDA approval issues for a moment). Needing to drive down the cost of certain functions while maintaining certain high standards applicable to infection control and cleanliness will dictate the deployment of certain robotic technology, and so on,” Olderman said. “The supply chain will be the source, in many cases, for the evaluation, cost-benefit analytics, testing, sourcing, contracting and deployment of many of these technologies both within the supply chain operation (e.g., blockchain for efficient contracting) and within clinical operations tied into the supply chain (e.g., robotic central supply or centralized sterilization). My expectation is that supply chain leadership that is well versed in what technology and processes can enhance operations and the consumer experience will be the vanguard for the adoption of many consumer-driven improvements deployed by healthcare providers.”

1. Artificial intelligence (AI)

This topic represents computers equipped with software programming that can learn from and react to staff searching and tasks. They can be instructed to recognize what you are doing and also decide what you need next or even what you’re overlooking based on recorded behaviors, searches and tasks. It’s decision support 2.0 in that machines not only learn from each other but also from the end users. Many experts and observers think AI is a “need to have” technology for the healthcare supply chain.


SF Karen Conway

Karen ConwayKaren Conway, Vice President, Healthcare Value, Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX)

“We’re already seeing AI being used to predict future patient needs through analysis of multiple kinds of data from genomics to lab tests to information about the social, economic, environmental and behavioral factors that impact a person’s health. Through the power of AI, healthcare providers can predict which patients are more likely to develop certain disease states or will benefit from different therapies. This enables providers and payors to proactively suggest different kinds of behavior changes, diagnostic tests or other interventions. Healthcare systems can also ensure they have staffed appropriately to handle demand.

“From a supply chain perspective, this kind of data could also help better plan for the what kinds of products and services that will be required to support patient care and where they will be needed. That’s a pretty exciting prospect for an industry that has not yet been able to generate good demand signals from the actual utilization of products.

“Another exciting area for AI is the ability to assess and predict risks to supply continuity. AI could help predict potential shortages or backorders and enable the industry to take proactive steps before the lack of product creates a negative impact on patient care. “


SF Kiewiet Steve Intalere

Steve KiewietSteve Kiewiet, Chief Commercial Officer, Intalere

“Current supply chain processes are rampant with routine processes that can and should be automated. The amount of time wasted, and errors created by humans moving data from websites to spreadsheets or from one sheet to another or from one place into an EMR, etc. is beyond embarrassing. With so much critical work that these people could be performing in the support of better healthcare at lower cost. We must automate all appropriate repetitive tasks. Additionally, Intelligent Automation can make decision support systems more effective and improve decision making capabilities for all those involved in healthcare delivery and supporting healthcare delivery.

“The use of AI has been shown to significantly improve the capability and effectiveness of human decision making and performance. We don’t achieve the future without this enhancement.”


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