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Preventing Harm Requires Supply Chain Resilience: Emergency Preparedness and Planning beyond Acute Care

Preventing Harm Requires Supply Chain Resilience: Emergency Preparedness and Planning beyond Acute Care

The COVID-19 pandemic has focused attention on healthcare emergency preparedness and response demonstrating real-time, the correlation between emergency preparedness and the safety and quality of care and services. But emergency preparedness did not begin with the pandemic—nor do the lessons stop there. The pandemic provided sobering evidence that these correlations exist beyond acute care, as demonstrated in other settings such as ambulatory and especially aging care.

Other highly-disruptive forces have increased the urgency for more robust emergency planning and response across the all care settings. An increasing frequency of threats from potentially life-threatening emergencies such as hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, severe flooding, and even cyberattacks now need consideration in every provider organization’s emergency preparedness and response efforts.

Any of these emergencies and related hazards require organizations to move from routine to non-routine operating environments. The ensuing disruption of continuity of care and services leads to a myriad of risks and opportunities for harm.

A critical area of operations which is often overlooked until an emergency occurs is purchasing and supply chain management—and when an emergency occurs it’s too late to effectively respond. Not having the right types and amounts of medications, supplies, and equipment available when needed creates real harm for not only persons served, but also the workforce who shoulders the burden of delivering the care and services throughout an emergency. Additionally, these risks extend enterprisewide, opening up an organization to real financial and reputational harm.

When operating environments are in a more routine state, minor interruptions in supplies, equipment, and facilities may occur but operations can be sustained using work-arounds until the problem is resolved. During an emergency, however, even the most basic items needed to deliver care and services can become scarce–or worse yet, entirely unavailable, exposing the organization to additional dangers such as unchecked increases in expenses. Practices such as sole-source contracting and just-in-time delivery will limit an organization’s ability to respond effectively given the lack of alternate suppliers and inventory on hand.

Furthermore, the type of emergency can change the degree of utilization (which items we use, how we use them, and the volume of use) within a system. When the emergency affects the larger care and delivery systems, the ramifications can be life-threatening as shortages develop and organizations must make decisions about substitute supplies and equipment being used in non-routine ways.

"Hardening" is the concept of building resilience against threats by employing emergency planning and response approaches (such as the one outlined above) so they become an essential aspect of standard operating procedure. While this concept often is used in regard to physical plants and buildings, it also can be applied to many of the most basic operating functions found within every provider organization or system. In the case of supply chain management, hardening includes, but is not limited to:

  • Building an organization’s supply chain network
  • Strengthening purchasing and procurement decision-making for use and cost-effectiveness
  • Having a valid means to compare between manufacturers of the same supplies, equipment, and services
  • Having contingencies to address shortages
  • Enhancing inventory management across the care delivery system

As the name implies, organizations are part of a supply chain, acknowledging that just an inward focus is not enough to build resilience–it takes a networked approach with the right partners.

ECRI’s supply chain and purchasing assurance solutions are specifically designed to assist healthcare provider organizations across all care settings to build resilience into many elements of their supply chain, purchasing, and inventory functions. It includes supplies (medical and non-medical), equipment and capital items, and services.

By doing so, these solutions achieve three mission-critical benefits:

  1. They leverage the supply chain function to support safety and quality of care outcomes
  2. They provide decision-making support in routine and non-routine operating environments
  3. They help organizations drive better stewardship of resources by creating real savings through spend management, allowing those savings to be allocated to support other mission-critical safety and quality of care improvements

If your provider organization is facing severe challenges you’re not alone. Many healthcare sectors, beyond acute care, are facing operating losses and could benefit from expert guidance as they work to improve their emergency preparedness and response efforts.

ECRI can provide that expert guidance; we leverage years of experience and $128 billion in healthcare purchasing data from across the United States as your partner in the effort to help re-build sustainability in your care and service delivery system. Let us help you transform your organization’s purchasing and supply chain functions in a way that makes them integral to quality of care, safety, and cost-effectiveness every day, not just during an emergency.

Contact us today at for a free consultation.