The Surprisingly Low Cost of Sustainability: How To Save By Being More Responsible
Making your normal medical inventory practices a little more sustainable is not only friendlier to the communities you serve, but to your budget, as well.
While you don't have to read the first part of this two-part series to understand how "waste" and "savings" work, we'd obviously recommend it. In that article, we provided the argument for why healthcare facilities should integrate sustainability practices into their supply chain plans, as well as giving you the barest preview of how doing so would lead to savings.
Let's not delay any further in giving you actionable advice on how to make your supply chain practices more eco-friendly and, in the process, more economically efficient.
Understand inventory needs.
The absolute least that a supply chain professional is expected to do is keep the shelves stocked. And that's no small task, between fulfilling the minimum requirements for patient care, accommodating the requests and preferences of various personalities and departments, and combating disruption within the supply chain itself, of which we've seen no shortage in the last year.
But many healthcare professionals mistakenly think that procurement is the most that the supply chain department can do, too. Because the pace of working in a healthcare provider of any type and size can often be overwhelming, supply chain pros can often find themselves pressed for time to do more. "Optimize" is a nice idea and all, but when is there time?
Gaining more accurate inventory information must be integrated into day-to-day operations. If there's so much as a single step between seeing how much is on the shelf and analyzing how much should be on the shelf, the process is too difficult.
Providers need the ability to compare their current inventory against historical data from their hospital and across the industry, but they also need that information to come with instant recommendations.
Which brings us to the difficult task of having to...
Adjust supply order quantities.
Having information is only as good as the action that comes out of it. You read the cataclysmic predictions of the latest climate report? Great. You're not doing anything to change the amount of medical supplies that your facilities order, store, and throw away before they can be used? Not great.
So once you have the data on what and how much you should be ordering, you need to change what and how much you're ordering. This is not simple.
On top of systemic challenges like fixed quantities - you need three sutures, but they only come in packs of 10 - interpersonal struggles are almost inevitable. If you're trying to standardize supplies across an entire IDN, you're going to make someone, somewhere upset. It may be because of brand preference, or it may boil down to: "That's not the way we've always done things."
The benefit of determining your medical supply needs prior to optimizing your inventory levels is that you are armed with the data to back up your decisions. It may not prevent you having hard conversations, but it should help those conversations go your way.
Which can be especially difficult when you are trying to...
Redistribute supplies between healthcare facilities.
Having an accurate view of how much each facility and each department needs of each medical supply means supply chain pros should be able to move supplies according to need. If Hospital A has too many catheters, but Hospital B doesn't have enough, why not move those catheters? It will prevent both facilities from over-ordering and wasting supplies and budget. (And the budget waste is massive, because it's not just a couple of catheters, as you can probably tell by now.)
Establishing an internal logistics network doesn't have to be a massive, daunting task. Yes, you can coordinate shipments to and from a centrally managed warehouse, but you can also pack supplies in a single crate or tote at Hospital A and mail them directly to Hospital B using your favorite shipper. Or an employee who's going between facilities anyway can throw the box into the back of their car.
That's the ultimate version of everyday medical supply optimization that we're aiming for: integrating sustainability practices into what you're already doing.
Filling your shelves with what you've already bought is a great, low-impact way to do that. Another practice that will significantly improve supply and budget efficiency is encouraging supply chain pros to...
Buy from the secondary market.
The supplies that hospitals can't redistribute between their own facilities - for whatever reason - go up for sale. No shortage of low-priced medical supply resellers exist, but a few policies will differentiate the sellers who will actually benefit your organization.
Flexible quantities is a must. Being locked into buying more than you need is repeating the same old process at a lower price. It's fine, but it's far from optimized. You should be able to buy down to the individual unit for all supplies, all the time. You're armed with that predictive data about how much you'll need, right? Use it.
Traceability has become quite the watchword in contemporary supply chain management, but the way that it ought to be manifested in secondary market vendors is that their supplies ought to come directly from other healthcare providers. Almost without exception healthcare providers have incorporated product from new manufacturers and sellers onto their shelves in the last year, but knowing that everything a reseller offers is from another hospital goes a long way to circumvent the kinds of investigation you'd normally have to do when sourcing from a new supplier.
And buying from the secondary market, in addition to the obvious budgetary benefits, is another way to make sure that every medical and surgical supply is used before disposal, which improves the sustainability of the industry.
Which ought to encourage healthcare leaders to...
Evangelize about your success.
This may not seem like it directly benefits your budget or the health of your community, but it does. Here's how:
Healthcare as an industry is very destructive to the environment. Which, as we've said before, is pretty contrary to the spirit of the industry.
One of the ways we can improve the industry as a whole is encouraging each other to rise to the highest standards possible. Bragging about how much you've improved your supply chain efficiency - and, in the process, your bottom line - will encourage other healthcare providers to improve, as well.
When you read a headline like: "How Steward Hospitals Saved $16 Million," most hospital leaders will want to learn more. Whether it's because they want to look like they're doing just as well in the name of competition, or they want to see how much they can save, the result is the same.
And the result is better care for the communities being served by every healthcare facility. Not only is the budget improving such that savings can be reinvested in better care, but the environment is being less adversely impacted by normal healthcare operations.
You're not just caring for your local population when they're occupying your beds. You can be caring for them around the clock by improving their air quality and weather stability. Your community will be healthier if you do exactly what you're doing now, just a little better.
Don't you have an obligation, then, to improve your supply chain practices if it will improve your patients' health?