It’s time to clinically integrate the healthcare supply chain

Melissa Amell Profile picture for user Melissa Amell October 20, 2020
Melissa Amell, Industry Solution & Strategy Director of Supply Chain at Infor Healthcare outlines the four key building blocks to integrating your clinical supply chain.

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We've learned many lessons based on the experiences of healthcare supply chains in recent months, and throughout it all, one thing has become clear. Hospitals and health systems need to connect the supply chain to the Electronic Health Records (EHR) and other clinical systems to standardize, streamline, and automate business processes. But how do you begin this journey?

This depth of integration and automation helps to lower costs, track supplies throughout the organization, maintain caregiver and patient safety, and ultimately improve outcomes. A recent Becker's article sums it up: "A hospital supply chain that fuses logistical and purchase operations with clinical elements is paramount to providing optimal supply chain results."

In recent years, health systems have put a large focus on improving their clinical operations, but what quickly emerged during the pandemic is that business engines also play a pivotal role in keeping systems running smoothly.

Business Engine is the software that enables data and operational business transactions within the hospital in the areas of Human Resources (People), Finance (Revenue and Expense) and Supply Chain (Product & Equipment), which is the ERP.  Both systems, clinical (EMR, Electronic Medical Records) and business (ERP, Enterprise Resource Planning), are the foundation of all healthcare operations, workflow, business and clinical processes.

An example would be integrated functionality to support the recall management process within the hospital. A solution that targets products that may put the organization at risk, identify where those products are in the organization, and ease the process of getting them removed and made unavailable to avoid accidental use. And when the business system and the clinical system are connected, identification of where these products are located is even more streamlined and efficient. 

This capability ensures that recalls are dealt with promptly and documented appropriately.  As you are aware, deficiencies in these processes can lead to financial exposure and more importantly, potentially put patients and caregivers at risk. This functionality can also support new item introductions, substitutions and product conversions.

Just think about the recent events that have happened around PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), where organizations were dealing with allocations, backorders, and shortages and ultimately asking the caregivers to use products that were not normally stocked or what they traditionally used. Software can help identify products and automate the replacement process, supporting what you deem as clinical or functional equivalent products for replacement. 

The ideal model

Think about all the departments and business processes these examples affect - from supply chain, to the nursing units, to the procedural areas to risk management and ultimately the patient.

We consider the ideal model to combine next-generation clinical and business platforms that integrate and optimize enterprise-wide value creation by connecting the clinical system to the business system, not only functionally, but operationally. There are so many upstream and downstream business processes that this supports, and functionality can connect the way the individual departments in the organization work with each other in both the clinical and business areas of the hospital in order to support overall patient care. Delivered integration enables caregivers to focus on care delivery and patient outcomes, relieving them of the administrative burdens that contribute to clinician dissatisfaction.

Aligning business systems helps build on clinical investments to enhance organizational performance, accountability, and sustainability. In the process, they become the trusted source of cost and support for real-time decision-making.

The clinically linked healthcare supply chain plays a crucial role in lowering costs and improving outcomes. Supply leaders need the flexibility to experiment with new procurement procedures and quickly find new sources of supply to keep up with demands for equipment and supplies needed to treat patients. The bottom line is that they need to have critical supplies on hand.

Healthcare is an inordinately complex ecosystem even within the four walls of a delivery organization.

Hundreds of internal and external systems should be connected to interoperate. Operational systems such as the supply chain must be integrated to EHRs, point of care systems, and finance to promote streamlining of healthcare operations-and to free hospital clinical staff from paper, phone, and fax purgatory. Furthermore, when the supply chain combines information with clinical data to support analytics, and leverage AI, it ultimately offers a broad understanding of the role of supply chain in value delivery and clinical outcomes.

Integrating your clinical supply chain - four building blocks

At Infor, we believe clinically integrating the supply chain will reap many rewards. Here are some thoughts on how to start.

  • Establish a data-driven, outcome-focused environment. A comprehensive data management strategy that relies on delivered system integrations and data standards is key to ensuring data integrity. Not only does information need to be accurate, it needs to be easy to understand and consume. Data ownership and governance should be agreed upon up front.  The Supply Chain Item Master should be the system of record for all medical products used in the organization.  This data should feed over to the EMR to be used and documented in the patient record.  This ensures that there is one source of truth, just like the EMR is the source of truth for all clinical data and the patient record.

  • Reassess your value analysis program. Today's programs should include representation from physicians, nurses, and other specialists to ensure a comprehensive perspective that goes beyond cost, efficacy, and reimbursement. A more holistic assessment will also consider how supplies affect clinical labor and patient outcomes. It only stands to reason that the more involved clinicians are in the process, the more readily they will adopt their organization's supply chain strategy.

  • Keep communication lines between the supply chain team and clinical team leaders open. Ochsner Health's supply leader began working with the chief of epidemiology to make sure her team understood policy changes immediately when the pandemic began. And Parkland Health's supply team became part of the COVID-19 command center team when the "new normal" set in. Having open lines of communication not only keep everyone informed, but also can spur innovations.

  • Keep your eye on the recall. Even before the pandemic, recall management in healthcare faced a variety of challenges that were compounded by the way recalls are handled by manufacturers, distributors, third parties, and the FDA. Reliance on manual processes can lead to financial exposure and, more importantly, carry the potential to put patients and caregivers at risk. Automation is key. When business and clinical systems are connected, identification of where these products are located is streamlined and efficient. This capability ensures that recalls are dealt with promptly and documented appropriately.

Opportunities for driving better outcomes through aligned clinical and business platforms are manifold. A healthcare business platform can create a functional convergence with clinical operations to enhance performance with patients and clinicians, as well as in diagnoses, procedures, and the revenue cycle. This will help healthcare organizations maintain the functionality and flexibility needed to manage before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic - or another crisis.

You can read more in our best practice guide, Five steps to responding to a healthcare crisis.

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