The Healthcare Hub

A Primer on Purpose at the GHX Supply Chain Summit

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

After working with him for nearly a decade, I finally had the chance to meet Gartner’s lead master data management analyst, Andrew White, in person today. He kicked off the "Big Data" track at the 2012 GHX Supply Chain Summit, helping the audience get some perspective on what can be an overwhelming subject for many. Andrew said, "it’s not really about the data," but rather the business objective you are trying to achieve. It seems like an obvious point but one that is often forgotten when we are too focused on the challenges around data created, stored, shared and used in healthcare. Think about electronic health records (EHRs) as an example. Many healthcare systems have been so focused on meeting the requirements of meaningful use in time to qualify for federal funding that they forgot to consider whether their systems would communicate with EHRs deployed by other providers. And isn’t a primary purpose of EHRs to make sure that providers responsible for specific patients have the ability to share information in order to better coordinate care for those patients?

Another point we often forget is the importance of standardized processes. In the another track-this one on ‘Standardizing for Higher Quality , Greater Savings” - Dennis Black of BD cautioned those working on data standards to remember the importance of establishing common business practices and rules. He gave an example of a customer who began ordering products using GTINs, the GS1 standard for product identification. That customer used the 14-digit GTIN, but also included the leading (01) that often precedes the GTIN. To make sure the orders would not fail, BD would have to strip out the (01), which just adds work to a process that the GTINs were supposed to streamline. Dennis noted that organizations like GS1 and GHX both have users groups looking at best practices around the use of data standards, and he encouraged organizations to add process improvement to their standards project plans.

Rosalind Parkinson, chief supply chain officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, joked in that same session that those in healthcare may have become too accustomed to bad practices and derive some satisfaction from solving problems that would not need to be solved IF we only focused on the bigger picture, which takes me back to Andrew White’s point. Without a clear understanding of what we are trying to accomplish, how can we measure success along the way? Once again, using data standards as an example, I think we can get misguided just counting how many organizations have enumerated their locations with the GS1 organization identifier, the GLN, or how many manufacturers have assigned GTINs to their products. Yes, it’s a step in the right direction, but the bigger issue is how many organizations are using those standards, in business processes, and to what purpose.

For example, in addition to more efficient supply chain processes, product data standards can provide better visibility into product utilization, which in turn can improve the revenue cycle, recall process, demand planning, inventory management, and clinical efficacy, among others. Understanding the various purposes for the data can also help streamline how we collect and use that data, a topic being addressed by the providers and suppliers involved in GHX’s implantable device supply chain initiative. At this morning’s opening session, GHX shared some of the key findings from research conducted in this space over the past two years, along with an update on work being done to standardize what are now highly manual, duplicative and disjointed processes in the OR and Cath Labs. Today, clinicians, materials management personnel, and vendor representatives are all capturing data on the products used in surgical procedures, but for different purposes: patient billing, the implant log, purchasing transactions, and supply chain operations. But they are all doing it in different and often manual and therefore error-ridden ways. As a result, there can be discrepancies in the data, which can compromise quality and cost, while fueling the mistrust that exists between many of the parties involved.

But progress is being made, with GHX announcing today that six providers and four manufacturers are now engaged in pilots to automate data capture, the first phase in creating an industry solution for the implantable device supply chain. No doubt, it will be a monumental exercise in change management, but this morning, representatives of the some of the providers and manufacturers working with GHX on this initiative said they recognize that they share a common problem and are committed to finding a common solution. As one of the speakers, Dale Locklair of McLeod Health, explained: clinicians, manufacturers and healthcare delivery organizations are like a three-legged stool supporting the patient. If "we all" (did I mention Dale’s from South Carolina) don’t work together, we will fail at our ability to care for the patient – and isn’t that really our primary objective. 

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Karen Conway

Vice President, Healthcare Value