How to manage clinical supply challenges and bottlenecks

Thermo Fisher Scientific
Saturday, 01 May, 2021


Supply and sourcing are highly complex systems and involve many dependencies which hospitals, clinics and allied health providers may have little control over. But even so, there are concrete steps they can take to minimise their chances of being caught out by a supply shortage.

Tackling unexpected supply gaps and bottlenecks requires a holistic strategy that considers both the demand-side and supply-side roots of the problem. Let’s explore the key steps in creating an effective sourcing strategy.

1. Forecast and manage demand

A crisis like a pandemic creates an enormous demand shock for healthcare systems, which are typically run at near-full capacity. That makes good forecasting critical for navigating supply shortages and bottlenecks. While forecasting demand to any degree of accuracy can seem impossible, most healthcare providers have enough historic data to make rough but still-useful short-term forecasts. Healthcare providers can also consider metrics like population density, social distancing policies, daily testing rates, time to process tests etc, to inform their forecasts and keep their procurement and resource teams in the loop.

2. Plan for supply issues and bottlenecks

In times of unexpected demand, even the most robust supply chains can experience bottlenecks. In highly interdependent supply chains like those in Australia and New Zealand, bottlenecks tend to move up and down the value chain. For example, you may have a surplus of testing kits, but because of a shortage of cotton swabs, your testing capacity could still be restricted.

Getting ahead of supply shortages requires forecasting the next likely bottleneck in your supply network, which requires up-to-date information about the inventory your suppliers have available and their capacity to source new stock, along with your own demand patterns and rates of consumption. Having a historical view of your supplier’s capabilities and visibility into their sourcing processes for specific products can be very helpful in preparing for bottlenecks in surge situations.

3. Move to digital processes

The healthcare sector is notorious for its reliance on manual and paper processes. Digitisation is creeping into various hospital departments, clinics and allied healthcare organisations, but is still inconsistent and adoption is slow.

But you do not need to digitise your entire organisation to start seeing the benefits. Removing manual processes from even a few operational functions, like procurement, can be hugely beneficial. Transitioning to digital processes has been shown to reduce errors, deliver significant time savings, and greatly improve organisational agility.

Having a view of live inventory, item tracking and data from devices, equipment and people can help procurement quickly identify any stock losses or shortages and respond quickly to address it. If your supplier is also digitally enabled, the benefits compound over time as you get greater visibility across the supply chain, allowing you to plan sourcing more accurately.

4. Understand your suppliers

Supplier relationships are a key part of your organisation’s ability to secure necessary resources at the right time. Aim to map your key suppliers a few tiers upstream to get a better picture of their strengths and limitations. You should also cultivate relationships in advance with key resources and people in your supply network well before a potential crisis emerges.

Also, give preference to suppliers who can source locally. They tend to be more agile and responsive, and having them on your panel of suppliers will also spread out the risk. Sourcing locally can mean higher capital costs and lower economies of scale, but lower transportation costs, faster turnaround times and local support may offset those drawbacks.

5. Foster a culture of collaboration

Developing an effective operational culture is a key element of risk management. Leading by example, senior executives should strive to break down silos between departments. It is important to empower individuals to freely discuss risks while sharing learnings and best practices across department boundaries. This kind of cross-functional collaboration will enable better operational visibility across the organisation, while creating opportunities to share resources and discover supply efficiencies.

Following these steps will help your organisation’s ability to source precious clinical goods and reward you with a network of reliable partners who will stand by your side through the good times and the bad.

Get in touch with Thermo Fisher AU today to enquire about our curated range of clinical PPE, critical care, consumables, accessories and devices for healthcare providers. Request a sample to discover how Thermo Fisher’s clinical products can help your staff provide the highest level of care to your patients.

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