I am a fan of global supply chain standards for product and customer/location identification and the role they can play in improving operational efficiencies and patient safety. I am NOT a fan of how we talk about standards much of the time. Certainly the sheer volume has catapulted the industry toward adoption, such that this time, I think we just might get there. Certainly many of the major players, like Mayo Clinic and Sisters of Mercy Health System on the provider side, and Abbott and BD on the supplier side, have recognized the value and prioritized standards adoption and implementation. My concern is that the way we talk about standards, often more about the standards themselves than the problems we are trying to solve, is not compelling enough to convince the majority of hospitals and suppliers to take action. Studies find that a substantial portion of providers and suppliers, as much as half, are still waiting for someone to tell them what to do, including which standards to adopt, or for a compelling business case. They won’t push standards with their leadership until they know the return on investment. Problem is, a study proposed last year to determine the cost/benefit was so expensive, someone would have asked for an ROI study on the ROI study. And as the grocery and publishing industries, among others, have found, it takes widespread adoption before the benefits can be adequately measured.
Proponents point to the benefits realized by the grocery industry, but no one, to my knowledge, has done a good enough job making the correlation between how the grocery industry uses standards and how they could or should be applied in healthcare. Where we can learn from the grocery industry is how they decided to move forward, not with a full blown business case but rather with a clear understanding of what they were trying to achieve. Initially, the impetus was productivity, as simple as getting people through the checkout stand faster, but the leaders of the major chains also recognized the potential for even greater savings through increased visibility and collaboration to optimize inventory across the supply chain.
I’m not saying the proponents of standards in healthcare don’t have a vision, but it has, for the most part, not been clearly delineated – until recently. In a new case study, Tom Stenger, Jr. from BJC HealthCare does an excellent job explaining how his institution has successfully implemented GTINs and GLNs for product and organization/location identification, respectively, including a useful step-by-step guide that others can follow. More importantly, he outlines why BJC has made this a priority. He doesn’t just talk vaguely about improving operational efficiencies and patient safety, but rather clearly describes what he calls the Ultimate Solution: “an integrated network of systems through which the healthcare industry can track product stage and patient outcomes and automate all of the supply chain process to increase operational efficiency, reduce costs and improve patient care.” To achieve BJC’s vision, Stenger says all supply chain partners need to take an active role. For example, he calls on suppliers to feed sales tracing reports, with standards to id products and the organizations that purchased them, into a central repository. He also says providers need to integrate bedside, OR, supply chain, billing and medical records systems such that when a clinician scans a product at the point of use, that information is captured for a variety of purposes, from decrementing inventory to populating electronic medical records.
Stenger overcomes the argument that standards implementation has to take a back seat to other priorities, such as complying with healthcare reform. He has shown that standards can help achieve a primary objective of reform − the ability to provide quality care in a more efficient and affordable manner. The real value of the ultimate solution – and by association, the standards that make it possible – is our ability to move faster when there are adverse events and, better yet, to determine which products and procedures contribute most to quality outcomes.
I encourage you to read the case study. Admittedly, it was published by GHX and GS1 Healthcare US, but it is Stenger and the team at BJC who deserve the credit for putting meaning behind the move to standards.