If you look at healthcare's supply chain as a business, who are the customers?
The obvious, immediate answer would be patients receiving care. They're the endpoint, after all. And while we would agree that a provider's patients are its customers and they're the ones ultimately benefited by improving all the constituent departments of a provider, they may not be directly served by each of those departments.
Every hospital department - except for finance, but that's a different discussion for a different time - reaches a crucial filter before interacting with patients: the clinicians.
Who's Pulling Product Off The Shelves?
86% of nursing staff polled said that they are stressed by supply chain interactions. Nearly 1 out of 5 said they have been so irritated by supply chain practices that they've considered leaving their positions. The numbers are stark, but they're not surprising.
We're big believers that the process of recording inventory levels to reach an annual (or biannual or weekly or daily) valuation ought to be as fast as possible. That's why we designed our mobile app to reduce the supply-counting process for an entire hospital - and an entire hospital system - to a single day.
But we also know that most supply chain teams aren't that efficient (yet). 65% of those nurses surveyed said that they are spending too much time interacting with supply chain. And we know that clinicians - like everyone working in healthcare - are stressed for time, which makes them stressed, period.
That can - and does - lead to poor patient outcomes as surely as the supply shortages experienced by more than 80% of those clinicians surveyed.
What's So Funny About Supply Chain Cooperation?
The survey does admit - by omission - an equally important part of the interplay between supply chain teams and clinical teams. And that is that it is an interplay. As in any interaction, both parties are accountable to one another.
Good customer service is earned by good customers. The customer who is polite and personable when they come into the diner in to get coffee and a bagel every morning is going to get better service from the staff than the person who comes in irritated and makes demands. Diner staff might work harder to memorize the nice customer's order or even have it ready before that nice customer comes in. They'll probably forgive when that typically nice customer has a bad day.
So clinical staff has a responsibility to be polite, to be helpful, and to be understanding when interacting with supply chain staff.
And each side has a responsibility to give feedback to improve the other.
If the patient's outcomes are going to be improved, pointing fingers won't help. If a parent gets rotten fruit off the grocery store shelf and feeds it to their kid, maybe that's the grocery's fault for stocking rotten fruit, and maybe it's the parent's fault for not noticing, but ultimately the kid is endangered. Going back and forth isn't going to solve that problem.
What solves the problem is that polite, professional interaction we just mentioned. Being on good terms means that the grocer and parent can discuss how product is stored and inspected.
(The expired fruit in that example represents the surgical supplies whose expiration dates a full quarter of clinicians don't check before using them. But you figured that out, right? It wasn't subtle.)
How Do We Help Everybody?
What processes can supply chain and clinical teams work up together to make sure that they're each supported in providing optimal care to that ultimate customer, the patient?
According to the survey, around two-thirds of providers are using barcode scanning to help them track inventory. Which is great! We sure would like that remaining third to test our new app, because we've incorporated scanning like never before at Z5 or anywhere else.
And having product on the shelves isn't problem-solved if it's not the right amount of product. Inventory needs to be right-sized with the right supplies on an ongoing basis. Collaboration between supply and clinical pros is a great start to that process. But so long as providing care keeps being stressful (which will probably be as long as care is being provided), everyone involved in healthcare's supply chain could benefit from some outside help that's hyper-focused on using inventory management to lower the cost of care and stress levels of all involved.
(That's Z5 Inventory. But you figured that out, too, right?)