The hidden costs of the supply chain status quo

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A “business-as-usual” supply chain approach is not conducive for hospitals and health systems operating in today’s healthcare environment of tightening margins and declining reimbursements.

Healthcare leaders must take more innovative actions to reduce supply chain waste and protect their organization’s bottom line.

To better understand these supply chain inefficiencies, Cardinal Health sponsored a Sermo survey, which polled 305 nurses, physicians and supply chain stakeholders on their first-hand supply chain needs and perceptions.

Lisa Zierten, director of hospital services marketing for Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, discussed the importance of optimizing the hospital supply chain and shared insights from the survey with Becker’s Hospital Review.

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity.

Question: What is the supply chain status quo?

Lisa Zierten: Interestingly, with increasing challenges on staffing and retention, manual supply chain tasks that put more burden on clinical and other staff are still essentially status quo. In fact, 83 percent of all respondents in our recent survey said their organizations still rely on manual counting in some part of their inventory management process, with only 15 percent reporting use of automated supply chain solutions powered by radio-frequency identification. Clinicians spend valuable time physically counting inventory or running down the hall to grab a missing product instead of focusing on the patient.

Q: What are the hidden costs associated with this status quo?

LZ: Hidden costs of manual approaches can contribute to inaccurate data and staff burnout. But more importantly, manual methods often work against good clinical care. In our survey, 27 percent of respondents have seen or heard of an expired product being used on a patient, and nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of operating room surgeons and nurses recall a time when a physician didn’t have a product required during the procedure.

What’s the cost of manual tasks and inaccurate data? More than two-thirds (69 percent) of stakeholders knew of a time their organization had to delay a case because the right supplies were not on hand, and 40 percent knew of cancellations due to missing supplies. Further, the fear of not having needed supplies compels half (51 percent) of OR clinicians to hoard supplies to ensure they have what they need to care for their patients.

This, and simply the amount of time clinicians spend on activities not focused on the patient, can be added burdens.

Q: How do the hidden costs affect staff burnout?

LZ: Let’s use the OR as an example. It’s a high-pressure environment, but when we asked OR clinicians in our survey to name the most stressful part of their job, the No. 1 reply was too much paperwork, followed by too little time for patients. Over time, this lack of job satisfaction can lead to burnout. And the problem is only expected to get worse. The turnover rate is expected to double to 68.7 percent for physicians and 62.7 percent for nurses over the next five years, according to the 2017 HIDA Acute Market report.

Q: What supply chain strategies can hospitals use to help reduce clinician turnover?

LZ: The HIDA Acute Market Report identified job satisfaction as the primary reason for turnover. To improve job satisfaction, hospitals need to help clinicians spend more time on the parts of the job they care most about, such as patients. Additionally, hospitals should eliminate nonvalue-added supply chain tasks wherever possible. Supply chain improvements, including automated systems, can help reduce stressful tasks and get surgeons and nurses back to what matters most to them: spending time with patients.