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  • Writer's pictureMicha Veen

Taking a pragmatic, fit-for-purpose and innovative approach to fix Medical Supply Chains

As a team of medical supply chain specialists, we understand the importance of maintaining a well-functioning supply chain system in across the full end-to-end medical supply chain to service health facilities. In recent years, healthcare supply chain issues have become increasingly complex, leading to a significant impact on patient care. In this article, we will discuss some of the common supply chain issues faced by medical facilities, their impact on patient care, and strategies and technologies that can be used to address them.

Capturing some of the main challenges that Medical Supply Chains are dealing with and providing some refreshing strategies to address these
Fixing Medical Supply Chains

Introduction to Healthcare Supply Chain Issues

The healthcare supply chain is a complex system that involves the procurement, storage, and distribution of medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, and equipment. It plays a critical role in ensuring that health facilities have the necessary resources to provide quality patient care. However, healthcare supply chain issues have become increasingly common in recent years, leading to significant challenges in the delivery of healthcare services.

One of the major issues facing healthcare supply chain management is the lack of visibility and transparency. In many cases, health facilities do not have a clear understanding of the availability and location of their medical supplies, which leads to overstocking or stockouts. Additionally, supply chain inefficiencies result in increased costs and waste, which impacts the financial viability of medical facilities.

Common Supply Chain Issues in Medical Facilities

There are several common supply chain issues that the medical supply chain faces. Below we have listed the most significant issues:

  1. Lack of standardisation in the procurement process: The procurement departments of health facilities often have multiple suppliers for the same medicine or health product, which leads to inconsistencies in pricing and quality

  2. Inventory management: In many cases, health facilities do not have the necessary systems in place to track inventory levels in real-time, which results in overstocking or stockouts. This often leads to delays in patient care and increased costs due to the need for emergency purchases.

  3. Health product quality and safety: Medical supplies must meet strict quality and safety standards to ensure that they are safe for use by patients. This requires rigorous testing and quality control processes throughout the supply chain,

  4. Regulatory compliance: Medical supply chains are subject to a variety of regulations and standards, which can vary by country and region. Compliance with these regulations can be complex and time-consuming, requiring significant resources and expertise,

  5. Supply chain transparency and visibility: In order to effectively manage the medical supply chain, the different supply chain participants need visibility into the entire end-to-end supply chain, from raw materials to finished health products. This can be challenging, as many different organisations and technologies may be involved in the supply chain,

  6. Transportation and logistics: Medical supplies often need to be transported quickly and efficiently (eg cold chain) ensure that they are available when and where they are needed. This requires effective logistics planning, as well as access, and/ or partnering with reliable transportation and distribution networks and service providers,

  7. Collaboration and Communication: Lastly, supply chain issues in health facilities are often caused by poor communication between different organisational units, supply chain participants and other third party providers. For example, procurement and clinical departments may not have clear communication channels, which can lead to delays in the procurement process and a lack of understanding of clinical needs.

The Impact of Supply Chain Issues on Patient Care

The impact of healthcare supply chain issues on patient care cannot be overstated. Inefficient supply chain management often lead to delays in patient care, which subsequentially results in negative health outcomes. For example, a delay in the delivery of critical medical supplies impact the ability of medical personnel to provide timely treatment to patients, which leads to adverse health outcomes.

Additionally, poor supply chain management result in increased costs, which impacts the financial viability of the health facilities, creating a lack of resources to invest in patient care and the development of new health technologies.

Medical Supply Chain Management Strategies

There are several strategies that health facilities can use to address supply chain issues.

  • One of the most effective strategies is the implementation of a centralised procurement model. This model will assist with the standardisation of the procurement process and reduce inefficiencies in the supply chain.

  • Another effective strategy is the implementation of real-time inventory tracking solutions (e.g. a warehouse management solution). This assists to ensure that health facilities have a clear understanding of inventory levels and can prevent stockouts or overstocking.

  • Lastly, health facilities often improve their supply chain management by implementing cross-functional teams that include representatives from different organisational units. This assists the improvement of communication and collaboration between the supply chain participants, leading to more efficient supply chain management.

Best Practices for Addressing Supply Chain Issues in Healthcare

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, there are several best practices that health facilities are advised to follow to address supply chain issues.

  • Collaboration: this is an essential element of an effective healthcare supply chain management model. Health facilities should work closely across their internal organisation units, as well with suppliers, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders to ensure that the supply chain is efficient and effective,

  • Supplier Relationships: Health facilities should prioritise the development of strong supplier relationships. This will assist in better inbound medical supplies delivery models and will ensure that health facilities have access to high-quality medical supplies through negotiating better pricing,

  • Adoption of enabling technologies: Introducing real-time tracking and monitoring technologies, medical supply chain will deliver improved visibility and traceability across the end-to-end supply chain, enabling pro-actively management of potential issues, bottlenecks or other challenges,

  • Investing in an appropriate learning and development approach (70-20-10 model) will substantially improve the knowledge, expertise, experience and skills. Unique Excellence's team believes that transferring their specialist knowledge and experience to their clients will enable their clients to be fully self-sufficient in delivering continuous improvements,

  • Government Regulations: Conducting regular audits and inspections to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and quality standards is imperative. Government regulations often play a significant role in addressing healthcare supply chain issues. Regulatory agencies should establish standards for medical supplies and equipment, which further assists the ability to harmonise end-to-end supply chain processes from procurement to warehouse to distribution to the health facility, further reducing inefficiencies and cost issues in the supply chain

  • Implementing an effective and fit-for-purpose data analytics model. Start small and pragmatic, before starting to introduce concepts like machine learning, artificial intelligence and other tools to improve forecasting and inventory management. By regular review and analysis of supply chain data inefficiencies can be identified and targeted areas for improvement can be introduced.

  • Sustainable supply chain to ensure all components of the supply chain are socially, environmentally and financially sustainable. Unique Excellence has developed a ESG verification technology that enables businesses, governments and supply chain organisations to capture their existing sustainability efforts and assessing, through scenarios, in how to improve their efforts in the coming period

Case Studies of Successful Supply Chain Management in Health Facilities

Unique Excellence has assisted numerous governments and private health businesses in introducing fit-for-purpose, pragmatic sustainable supply chain innovations that has supported efficient, effective and sustainable supply chain. Below, we have listed two projects that has introduced some significant benefits.

PNG National Department of Health

The team of UE specialists collaborated with local supply chain teams and government officials in Papua New Guinea to introduce seven solution streams to improve the availability of health products (Medical Supply Chain and Operations), reduce wastage, and introduce improved supply chain leadership and oversight, visibility and efficient 3PL operations management.

Health Product and PPE Organisation

By working in close partnership with this organisation's customers and 3PL service providers, the team introduced an effective, pragmatic innovative supply chain model, supported by fit-for-purpose technologies, to support a high-growth medical device/ PPE business to deliver 140+ million COVID-19 Rapid Allergen Test (RAT) Kits to the Australian State Government and Corporate customers.

Conclusion and Future Outlook for Healthcare Supply Chain Management

In conclusion, healthcare supply chain issues are a significant challenge facing national health departments, health facilities and health product/ medical device businesses . However, there are several strategies and technologies that can be used to address these issues. By implementing centralised procurement solutions, real-time inventory tracking models, and cross-functional teams, health facilities are able to substantially improve their end-to-end supply chain, leading to providing better patient care.

Looking to the future, healthcare supply chain management is likely to become even more complex, with the introduction of new medical technologies and increasing patient demand. However, by prioritising collaboration, data analysis, and pragmatic, fit-for-purpose solutions, health facilities are able to navigate these complexities and continue to provide high-quality patient care.

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