The Healthcare Hub

Automating the Implantable Device Supply Chain: Nine Steps to Success

posted by: Marco de Vries
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Earlier this fall, we announced the initial results of our implantable device supply chain (IDSC) pilot projects. The participating suppliers and providers are leading the charge to reduce the enormous amount of waste that stems from the IDSC – $5 billion a year across the industry. I am not going to take you through a history of the IDSC or our pilot; as readers of the “Healthcare Hub,” you know there are countless resources available here on those topics. What I’d like to share with you are some high-level best practices that we uncovered with our pilot participants; ones that I think can help any healthcare organization that is thinking about how it automates and manages the implantable supply process. 

  1. Understand the overall goal of automation.
    We are tackling implantable device supply management processes in our pilot projects, but the need for automation within healthcare is much greater than just tracking devices. In order to properly manage the IDSC, an institution must automate case schedules, case preps, operating room product usage and documentation and audit practices—in addition to the basic procurement process.
  2. Analyze current processes and prepare for change.
    Planning is critical. First, it’s important to map out all of the current processes to see where manual and redundant steps take place that could lead to errors. Once this map is created, it’s time to prepare for changing processes … with another map! This time, map out who is impacted within the organization by change and when. These maps are less about technology and more about understanding people and processes.
  3. Get buy-in.
    For most organizations, this is much easier said than done. In any process change, you will face many different people that you need to get to agree to the idea of change. In order to get everyone on the same page, it’s important to take individual drivers and concerns into account. For example, the finance department will care about cost and ROI, physicians will be concerned with impact on the quality of patient care, and the IT department will focus on data security, privacy and ERP standardization.  If you are a supplier, the commercial side of the business will want questions answered about efficiency, inventory and relationships—the impact on current processes. If all of these concerns and persona-specific value drivers are understood before you seek their buy-in, there is a greater chance of success.
  4. Know how to measure impact.
    Starting a project without knowing how you are going to measure its impact is a sure-fire way to fail. Before you start changing processes, benchmark where you are today and set key performance indicators for goals. Once clear metrics are set, it will be much easier to identify if process changes are having a meaningful impact.
  5. Don’t tackle the mountain.
    Start with small projects, and build momentum toward an entire supply chain process change. For example, pick a certain procedure type and focus on a pilot project with a single supplier. Once you get the roadblocks out of the way with the first pilot, it will be easy to use small successes to build toward larger changes.
  6. Understand impact on current systems.
    Any process changes will likely have an impact on your organization’s current systems (clinical, materials, ERP, etc.). Before you start a pilot, anticipate these potential impacts and work to minimize them. Understand any unique business rules, like those built into Materials Management Information Systems, and work with your internal teams to mitigate any risks to changing processes.
  7. Clean data is critical.
    As with any IT system, if you put garbage in then you get garbage out. The last thing you want to do when automating your IDSC is to simply speed up the flow of bad data. Before you start a project, analyze the master data in your current systems. Having accurate master data for item sync is essential.  This will likely require a close working relationship with your suppliers and GPOs to have access to clean data and ensuring that your outside vendors/service providers are providing you with the most accurate data possible.
  8. Don’t fear data sharing.
    Protecting privacy is paramount in healthcare. However, in order to automate the IDSC, you must be comfortable with the idea of sharing data – both internally and externally. If your organization is not comfortable sharing information like item master, product use and schedule data with outside suppliers—in a controlled environment - then you will struggle to have the data necessary to track your implantable devices and optimize your relationships with suppliers.
  9. Don’t go it alone.
    Your organization isn’t the first to automate the IDSC. As I mentioned earlier, we have already worked with suppliers and providers on pilot projects. Instead of reinventing the wheel, look into groups you can join and events you can attend where you can learn from your peers. For example, GHX holds quarterly special interest group meetings to bring together peers from organizations beyond our advisory boards to discuss how they can better manage implantable devices in their organizations.  And our 2013 Healthcare Supply Chain Summit will bring together providers and suppliers to discuss all aspects of the supply chain, including implantable devices.