Separate infection prevention from supply chain at your own peril. No
matter if you’re referring to the people who do it or the process itself.
Flash backward some 20 years ago and the notion that purchasing/materials
managers and infection control practitioners should be working together, if
not in tandem, seemed elusive at best.
Admittedly, it wasn’t such a foreign concept to practicing ICPs in the
field, whether on the front lines in hospital settings or in the more
insular consulting world. Nor was it so much a pipe dream to progressive
purchasing managers who saw it as one of several ways to elevate the
profession to C-level status, or at least have a seat in or an ear in the
But to most, ICP-MM partnerships remained a head-scratcher as materials
managers obsessed over keeping shelves filled, clinicians happy and vendor
pricing paid under control. Achieving two of the three was considered
Of course, this was before the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the
Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing in 1995, 9/11, the SARS outbreak,
numerous weather disasters, handful CJD threats, avian flu scares and most
recently the swine flu not-quite-a-pandemic. But this was at the tail end of
the HIV/AIDS scare that sucked the latex glove pipeline dry back in the late
1980s to early 1990s.
We also experienced the resurgence of C.diff and MRSA, the former of
which is spreading faster than the latter and both of which are spreading
faster than domestic terrorist attacks involving biological weapons that
eclipsed our clinical attention.
At the same time, ICPs had to sound the alarm against antibiotic
resistance and hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), where they still serve
as de facto mothers to us all by urging us to wash our hands. To think that
highly educated clinicians, regardless of the high-pressure situations they
endure, have to be consistently, if not constantly, reminded to wash their
hands is absurd. It’s a vicious, needless cycle. Medical errors on the front
end may lead to HAIs that clinicians try to control and eliminate (or cover
up?) with liberal use of antibiotics on the back end until the microbes
armor up enough to negate the effects, which bites us on the back end in the
What does this endless struggle have to do with supply chain managers?
Simple. In short, supply chain managers have to obtain the products and
services needed for infection preventionists (IPs) to do their jobs – that
is, to battle the bugs to death. No duh, right? What’s more frightening is
that there was a time people just didn’t get the connection. They missed the
motivation behind the link.
The bottom line: Infection preventionists may know what to get but supply
chain managers know how to get it, including where and when.
Both serve on product evaluation and/or value analysis committees, not
only influencing purchasing decisions but ultimately clinical outcomes.
Two decades ago, Healthcare Purchasing News started to connect the
dots and lay the groundwork to illuminate and emphasize those linkages to
its readers and the industry. Such efforts led to dedicated content and
editorial within HPN and even spawned a carve-out/niche within
healthcare publishing – IPs as product influencers, a radical concept that
emerged periodically in the clinical journals.
So as Washington starts to dissect healthcare reform once again and as
IPs and supply chain managers may walk the exhibit hall of the Association
for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) this month in
Ft. Lauderdale, FL, remember the mission. As technology improves while
budgets implode, the bugs are clinically and fiscally neutral. They consume
and multiply in an endless game of survival of the fittest. Are you