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How to Prepare for and Manage Supply Chain Disruptions in Healthcare
Supply Chain

How to Prepare for and Manage Supply Chain Disruptions in Healthcare

Healthcare organizations are some of the most complex and critical in the world. Supply chain disruptions in healthcare can have a ripple effect on patients, staff, and the community at large. So, whether you are running a health system, hospital network, aging services facility, or ambulatory care center, supply chain disruptions are crucial to understanding your organization as a whole. 

A supply chain is a complex network of individuals and companies that design, manufacture, distribute, and consume healthcare products. Because supply chains are so complex, it's easy for disruptions to occur. Some disruptions are due to labor strikes, transportation issues such as weather-related traffic jams or port closures, supplier bankruptcies, and product recalls. Other reasons could be that a company is sourcing products from a region that's experiencing political instability or if they rely on a limited number of suppliers. 

This can leave you without the necessary supplies or medications that you need to provide the level of care your patients deserve. That being said, there are ways that providers and healthcare facilities can prepare for these disruptions. If you're looking to navigate supply chain changes more effectively, keep reading for tips on preparedness and management strategies you can employ.

Look for alternative suppliers ahead of time

Waiting until supply chain disruptions occur can have detrimental consequences for your facility and jeopardize patient care and staff safety. The COVID-19 pandemic offers excellent insight into what can happen when you wait too long. When suppliers were unable to conduct their normal operations due to COVID, providers had to look elsewhere for support. This was a major issue for healthcare professionals due to the fact that they were unsure who to approach for essential supplies, especially personal protective equipment (PPE). While this is an extreme example that may not present itself frequently, you may still deal with minor disruptions like suppliers shutting down. Stay ahead of any potential supply chain issues by creating an alternative list of suppliers and functional equivalent products long before you need to reach out to them for support.

Strengthen and expand your supply chain before an emergency strikes emergency

Planning ahead and developing an emergency supply of products to use for patients and staff is an excellent first step. However, it doesn't really demonstrate readiness on its own. Hold regular emergency preparedness drills to see how well your organization is prepared for supply chain disruptions. Doing so can expose vulnerabilities in your system and let you know whether or not you're ready for a supply chain emergency. If you're not quite ready, analyze where you aren't able to meet demand and create new systems that help you plan and execute ahead more effectively.

Develop a system that helps you manage your inventory more effectively

Even the simplest of supply chain changes can weaken your supply of products and present challenges. Some examples of this might include price changes, discontinued products, or even changes in objectives by hospital managers who want to switch to an entirely new product to cut down on spending. Healthcare organizations that are best prepared for both minor and major changes have a comprehensive, effective inventory management system. You will want to have a system that is transparent (pricing, buying cycles, etc.), easy for all healthcare professionals in your organization to manage and understand, and offers ample features that benefit your organization. Also, evaluate and improve the systems that employees require to access supplies, and be aware of the inventory of products you have at any given time.

Keep in mind that supply chain preparation is as important as the everyday processes within your organization.

Identify potential risks and analyze the relationship between supply chain links

A disruption in the healthcare supply chain can affect a health organization's bottom line, as well as its reputation. That's why it's important for healthcare facilities to prepare for possible supply chain disruptions ahead of time before emergencies surface. 

Now is the time to work with a professional or set aside time to do extensive research on the healthcare supply chain. How does each link interact with the next in the chain? What drives each link, and how can changes impact the supply chain overall? What are some of the risks that affect supply chains? How can you plan ahead? Are you ready for issues like worker shortages, widespread infection, or other situations? There's a lot to consider and prepare for here. However, taking your time to consider potential scenarios that could affect your organization is critical to being ready for anything. The more you prepare, the more effective your organization will be.

Invest intelligently without letting affordability impact your stability

As a healthcare organization, hospital, aging care facility, or ambulatory care service, you're no stranger to investing in new technologies and opportunities. However, this desire to invest is often significantly impacted by trying to make your operations more cost-effective. The latter is important given that a healthcare organization cannot continue to operate successfully without ensuring that it's fiscally responsible. That being said, there's a fine balance to maintain when you're approaching new ways to manage supply chains.

Being too fiscally conservative often means investing in the most affordable solutions. While this can help you save money upfront, it may prevent you from receiving the support that you need to effectively manage your inventory and navigate challenges in the supply chain. Whenever you're concerned about the price of new technology for your organization, ask yourself a few questions: What does it offer your organization that cheaper solutions might not be able to? Will this technology pay for itself over time should you encounter a problem in the supply chain that affects your organization? How have others benefited from this technology, or how have they been impacted by it? Will this product meet patients’ expectations? Is this product effective? Searching for affordable solutions is necessary as long as it doesn't compromise valuable health care.

Plan ahead with the support of ECRI

ECRI is your go-to organization for support when navigating supply chain disruption regardless of whether you’re a large health system, hospital network, aging services center, or ambulatory care facility. Let ECRI help your team build a more resilient supply chain. 

ECRI already provides the industry’s leading spend intelligence by identifying, categorizing, and analyzing your organization's spend data. Now, our new report, the Functional Equivalent Category Cross Reference Report, will leverage that knowledge to help you find functional equivalents and build a more resilient supply chain.

Learn more about how ECRI can help you build a more resilient supply chain at