For the Sake of Our Patients, We Must Fix the Healthcare Supply Chain

April 5, 2024

The most devastating problem many healthcare providers face is a disruption to the supply chain. If we don’t have enough doctors or nurses on hand to care for an unexpected influx of patients, we can transfer patients to other facilities as we wait for human reinforcements. If an insurance company fails to reimburse us quickly for services rendered, we can continue treating patients while the lawyers work things out. But if we can’t get the supplies and equipment we need, when we need it — or if those supplies or equipment are faulty, and we don’t realize it — then we may not be able to give our patients what they need. If we can’t get the necessary devices, then it’s likely that no nearby hospitals have them, either. Our caregivers always make do, of course — but without the proper medical devices, the standard of care inevitably erodes. Our patients and their families end up suffering in ways that could have been prevented. 

Suppliers understand how important it is to keep the supply chain moving, and to quickly notify providers of any issues. Nevertheless, they persist in using a paper- and broadcast system of communication whose inefficiencies are by now well-known.

Medical-product recalls keep growing in complexity and scope and are now in the hundreds of millions of units a year. That’s a lot of paper notices mailed to affected locations. And a lot of paper notices that had to come back at the same slow speed to confirm receipt. And a lot of recall broadcasts multiplying the alerts, alerting providers to recalls that didn’t even apply to them. As a result, a lot of providers, like the one for which I work, spent multiple hours and dollars just to figure out whether or not every last recall applied to us. These problems have gone unaddressed for far too long. COVID, of course, made things worse. Furthermore, there has been a marked increase in reported adverse events, a trend that suggests a likely rise in recall frequency in the near future, making things more challenging.

It's time for a change — to help our businesses, yes, but most of all to help our patients. We’ve felled enough trees, printed enough paper, and slogged through enough snail mail. We have a need for speed. Let’s get digital. 

Going digital will enable direct communication between providers and suppliers. (We’ve received enough wasteful broadcasts, too.) If suppliers sent recall alerts electronically, and only to those affected, then providers like us could use those same digital means to acknowledge receipt promptly — in minutes, rather than days or weeks. We could quickly ask any questions we might have and could address any problems with far less wasted effort, emotion and time on all sides.

Several providers have come together to establish the Recall Management Interest Group (RMIG), an initiative aimed at standardizing the data communicated during recalls. The RMIG is poised to make significant contributions, particularly by highlighting the benefits of standard communication in the recall process. While this focus is a crucial step, the full potential of these improvements can only be realized with a widespread adoption of electronic communication. Embracing this shift promptly is key to ensuring that advancements go beyond the incremental.

Providers must demand that suppliers work with a platform that can enable the kind of direct, two-way, digital communication we all need. 

The main beneficiaries of improving efficiency and accuracy in this way, of course, would be the patients we serve. That’s why we’re joining a number of our colleagues in signing a letter requesting the Immediate Transition to a Universal Platform for Supply Disruption Alerts.

Existing tools like NotiSphere or others that may be in development as multi-supplier electronic platforms provide such a solution today. By leveraging electronic platforms, we foresee a significant improvement in managing supply-chain communication challenges.

Our patients and our companies deserve better. Moving to existing tools like NotiSphere or others using a universal digital two-way platform will bring much greater efficiency and accuracy to the supply chain. The more providers and suppliers that sign up for this platform, the greater the efficiency we will together create — with patients benefiting most of all.

It’s time.

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