At the Healthcare Hub, we’ve written frequently about the amount of waste in the implantable device supply chain (IDSC). An estimated $5 billion in losses each year is nothing that can be pushed under the rug. Providers and suppliers need to act now to get a handle on these loses, and utilize the two potential solutions that they have at their fingertips – collaborative strategies and technology – to shift the status quo.
As with many aspects of healthcare today, the IDSC is highly manual – from phone calls to schedule cases and order devices and one-off emails to ensure a device has arrived at the hospital in time for a procedure. While this process is not entirely free to technology, the industry currently lacks a single solution to schedule cases and communicate between provider and supplier to order, track and deliver devices. Even the EHRs used by most hospitals do not fulfill this requirement, as many incorrectly assume, since the EHR system helps to schedule and track clinical documentation, but most do not include supply chain processes or communicate with suppliers.
The manual processes continue once the sales rep brings in the device to the hospital, and the OR staff pulls the product to go onto the case cart, tracks the items used and enters the identification numbers into an internal system to create a purchase order. Of course, as with all manual processes, human error and waste come into play, most commonly in the form of bloated inventories and inefficient ordering.
So how can healthcare take the step away from these manual processes and change the life of an implantable device?
Collaboration is the first step towards automation. While collaboration and trust are fairly new concepts in the healthcare industry, only through sharing critical information will suppliers and providers have a full view of the devices throughout the entire lifecycle and understand how to best manage them.
Some forward-thinking providers and suppliers are testing solutions beyond the current one-off offerings, starting with enabling electronic data interchanges for orders, including the data lot, serial numbers and expiration dates. Once these processes have been implemented and fine-tuned, the next step will be point-of-use supply consumption capture and case management, therefore removing the manual process of the OR staff tracking devices. Collaboration and trust are critical at this stage, because providers will begin automatically sending suppliers electronic notifications about new cases so they can start preparing products, with the future goal of sharing additional data so both parties can analyze trends and analytics to further eliminate waste and excess inventory.
Almost all healthcare providers and suppliers agree that the IDSC needs to change, and now, in order to save the money that will help keep the healthcare industry afloat. Once we look past all the talk, it’s that action that these parties are willing to take, being led by the pioneering few that will lead the industry into the future. Without those willing to trust in their trading partners and take the first step, we will be stuck with manual processes and waste, and this is something that no party in healthcare can afford.