June 2009

Fast Foreword

The missing link

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 boardroom.

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 successful.

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 long run.

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 prepared?