Maintaining an Equal Partnership between IP and Supply Chain

July 24, 2023

Within any hospital or healthcare facility, the relationship between the Infection Prevention (IP) and Supply Chain departments is arguably one of the most important daily interactions, designed to ensure the safety of patients and healthcare workers alike. When these two departments work successfully together, the result can be seen in the level of infection prevention and care provided throughout the facility, as well as in the cost-savings to the patients and facility. However, like any relationship, a successful partnership between IP and Supply Chain requires communication and collaboration to ensure the pairing achieves its goal of best healthcare practices.

According to Larinda Becker, Executive Director of Marketing - Infection Prevention at Diversey, maintaining a healthy balance between IP and Supply Chain comes down to five steps. She said, “Maintaining a healthy balance between infection prevention and the supply chain is key to helping ensure the safety and wellbeing of patients and healthcare workers.” 

The five key components Becker cited are:

1. Collaboration: “Encourage open communication and collaboration between infection control teams, supply chain managers, and healthcare professionals. This will allow for the identification of potential risks and the development of effective strategies to address them. We have seen that having frequent meetings and discussing challenges, along with working together to help create effective solutions can help. Having cross-functional training for teams can also improve the understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities and foster better decision-making.” 

2. Education and Training: “Provide comprehensive education and training to healthcare staff regarding infection prevention measures and the proper use of supplies and equipment. This will help ensure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities in preventing infections and using resources efficiently.” 

3. Regular Assessments: “Conduct regular assessments of infection prevention practices and supply chain management. This includes monitoring compliance with protocols, evaluating the effectiveness of current practices, and identifying areas for improvement.” 

4. Data Analysis: “Utilize data analysis and surveillance systems to track infection rates, supply utilization, and trends. This information can help identify patterns and potential risks that require attention and intervention. By analyzing data together, they can identify trends, areas of improvement, and potential risks to patient safety.” 

5. Continuous Improvement: “Foster a culture of continuous improvement by encouraging feedback from healthcare professionals and fostering a positive learning environment. Regularly evaluate and update infection prevention protocols and supply chain processes based on new evidence and best practices. Also, it may help to establish common goals and objectives that align with both infection prevention and supply chain management. This can help in promoting a shared sense of responsibility and accountability.” 

In agreement with Becker is Cory Turner, Senior Director Healthcare Strategy at Tecsys, who added, “Collaboration between teams is crucial as it helps identify common goals and leads to the development of a shared language, ultimately supporting more effective problem-solving. Once a collaborative mindset is established, your best strategy is to leverage automation and standardize processes. Integrating automation and automated workflows within the supply chain minimizes manual handling of products, thereby reducing the risk of infections by limiting opportunities for contamination.” 

He continued, “One example of using technology to streamline inventory management and reduce manual handling is the implementation of barcode scanning or RFID tagging. These technologies enable healthcare professionals in both IP and Supply Chain departments to focus on their primary responsibilities while ensuring adherence to infection prevention practices.” 

Citing efficiency through automation, Turner noted, “Many of our customers have deployed automation at the clinical point of use as part of supply chain transformation projects. Through the implementation of automated workflows and systems, the number of manual touches is significantly reduced. For instance, automated and optimized preference cards lead to a reduction in picks and returns, consequently minimizing the risk of contamination. This successful supply chain effort not only enhanced operational efficiency but also makes a tangible impact on infection prevention, waste reduction, and financial stewardship.” 

Alice Brewer, Senior Director, Clinical Affairs at PDI Healthcare, asserted, “It's imperative for infection prevention and supply chain to collaborate in order to meet the needs of a healthcare facility and maintain low levels of infection risks. The relationship is a two-way street—both departments need to communicate effectively and deliver on their goals and objectives.” 

She suggested strategies such as communicating product needs, setting expectations, and managing inventory outlooks to help both departments work successfully within any facility. 

Brewer added, “IP should approach supply chain early and often. Although not always recognized as such, supply chain is often the first link in the infection prevention chain. If IP leads the charge and takes ownership of the relationship, then supply chain can be better prepared to meet their needs.” 

She summed up, “If infection prevention and supply chain cannot work together and maintain a balanced relationship, patient outcomes could potentially become compromised. Regardless of which department initiates the relationship, it is imperative that the two work together to ensure the highest levels of cleanliness and disinfection to help curb the spread of infections.” 

Most Important Part of Partnership 

Among the many contributing factors in the relationship between IP and Supply Chain, industry professionals tend to agree that communication and shared information are the most important to success across both departments. 

Neal Buchalter, President of Parker Laboratories, said, “In the rapidly expanding realm of procedures making use of ultrasound technologies, both infection preventionists and supply chain specialists can become confused because of the many factors that must be considered when selecting appropriate cleaners and disinfectants. Building a shared and evidence-based understanding of how clinical procedures, infection prevention, and supply selection can be coordinated is an important way to ensure ultrasound equipment can be properly cleaned and maintained.” 

He added, “Suppliers have an important role to play, by responding to the needs of healthcare facilities with equipment and supplies that make procedures faster, easier, and safer to accomplish. Suppliers also need to take into consideration the effectiveness of products within the workflow of the clinicians. For example, does the product require expensive equipment and maintenance, ventilation, or plumbing? Does the product allow for true point of care processing? If suppliers respond appropriately to the needs of the marketplace, clinicians and supply chain specialists shouldn’t have to work hard to find the supplies they need to do their jobs.” 

Diversey’s Becker said, “The most important element in the relationship between supply chain and infection prevention is communication and collaboration. It is crucial for healthcare facilities to have open lines of communication between their supply chain team and infection prevention team. This allows for shared information and coordination to ensure that the necessary supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants, and pharmaceuticals, are readily available to prevent and control infections. Additionally, collaboration helps in identifying potential risks and challenges in the supply chain and implementing appropriate measures to address them.” 

Becker continued, “Providing cross-functional training sessions for infection control teams, supply chain managers, and healthcare professionals can help in improving their understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities. This can also foster better collaboration and decision-making.” 

Turner from Tecsys pointed out the benefits of effective communication. He said, “The most important element in the relationship between infection prevention and supply chain is effective communication and feedback. This empowers both teams to carry out their tasks efficiently, while enabling swift adjustments to meet the ever-evolving clinical needs and ensure optimal patient safety. Whether it involves establishing standardized practices or pivoting to contingencies because of a disruptive event, having a foundation built around information sharing becomes the cornerstone for achieving successful outcomes. That relationship also sets the stage for impactful joint efforts, like those that focus on standardization and automation, to help reduce the chance of errors and support better infection prevention practices.” 

Acknowledging the balance that must be maintained between the IP and Supply Chain departments, PDI Healthcare’s Brewer explained, “Communication and sharing of information are incredibly important to the relationship between infection prevention and supply chain. Each department has access to, or knowledge of, things that the other may not, which can significantly impact both purchasing and implementation of products. The exchange of this information can help to reduce issues like shortages or incorrect product placement or usage.” 

She added, “Supply chain is often the first link in the infection prevention chain, and IP and supply chain should acknowledge that they are operating under the same goals and purpose, and communicate clearly and often to successfully achieve those goals.” 

Bottom-line Benefits 

A well-balanced partnership between IP and Supply Chain not only produces daily benefits to patients and healthcare workers, but it also provides bottom-line cost savings within the facility, which serves to benefit the healthcare industry as a whole. But is there any more that departments and healthcare facilities can be doing to increase the cost savings to everyone? 

According to Richard Hayes, President at UVDI, “As it relates to UV room disinfection technologies, healthcare professionals already are taxed with a wide range of product claims and support. Because Supply Chain professionals and Infection Preventionists must carefully vet all potential devices to ensure they meet all institutional efficacy and safety needs, it is key for manufacturers to provide clear, independently supported product claims that are representative of use in practice. Providing clear, evidence-based product performance is often the first box to check in value-analysis-based decision-making and can unlock greater cost efficiencies and better outcomes.” 

PDI Healthcare’s Brewer pointed out how creative purchasing can help increase cost savings for facilities. 

“Healthcare facilities can look for ways to improve cost-effectiveness by being creative with purchasing, such as buying items as a bundle with other approved products or in bulk to save on price. Facilities can also consider being part of a group purchasing organization to leverage lower prices. Also, consider the techniques and products used for infection prevention—is what you’re using effective? Is there a better alternative? Perhaps paying a higher price for one item could save money in other areas. As we saw during the pandemic, supply chain and IP both play a critical role in ensuring the best possible patient outcomes, and a collaborative relationship will go a long way in reaching both departments’ goals.” 

Becker from Diversey listed four ways to improve cost-effectiveness and patient care. 

“There are ways to improve cost-effectiveness and patient care through continued collaboration between infection prevention and the supply chain. 

1. Inventory Management: Collaboration can help in implementing effective inventory management systems that ensure optimal stock levels of essential supplies, reducing the risk of shortages or overstocking. Suppliers can play a role in this and help manage product inventories to baseline and other needs. 

2. Assessment and simplification of product selection: By analyzing data on product effectiveness and cost, infection prevention and the supply chain can work together to identify the best products to help achieve goals without compromising patient care. 

3. Capacity planning and forecasting: Collaborative efforts can help in assessing future demand for supplies and planning accordingly, ensuring adequate stock levels during peak periods and reducing unnecessary expenses during low-demand periods. 

4. Evaluate supplier partnerships: Continual evaluation of supplier partnerships can help in identifying opportunities for cost savings and improved patient care. This could involve negotiating better pricing, exploring alternative suppliers, or consolidating purchasing power.” 

She summed up, “By leveraging the expertise and insights of both infection prevention and the supply chain, healthcare organizations can find innovative solutions to optimize cost effectiveness and enhance patient care in the context of infection prevention.” 

Parker Laboratories’ Buchalter added, “Medical device manufacturers and commodity suppliers know that healthcare is a rapidly changing field, where discoveries about human disease and advancing technologies often come together to generate significant improvements for patients.” 

He continued, “Many new products are specifically designed to build value for the healthcare system, sometimes by reducing direct costs, but also by reducing procedure time, increasing patient throughput, and minimizing the need for repeat procedures. When infection preventionists work closely with supply chain experts and outside suppliers, they can often find ways to build greater value for their institutions by selecting products offering outstanding value while also ensuring that patients are protected.” 

Summing up the question of how to improve cost savings through the partnership between IP and Supply Chain departments, Turner from Tecsys noted the benefits of reviewing workflow and automation processes. 

“Different health systems are at completely different points in their journey, but embracing a continuous improvement mindset unlocks a world of possibilities for both cost-effectiveness and patient care. The collaboration between infection prevention and supply chain departments plays a vital role in achieving these goals.” 

He added, “By removing unnecessary steps and touches, through workflow, process or automation, we can minimize waste, promote more sustainable workflows, and enhance infection prevention practices. This results in better patient care outcomes and reduced healthcare-associated infections. Continued efforts in standardization, automation, and accurate preference cards are key. Additionally, evaluating and engaging with suppliers who prioritize quality, cost-effectiveness, and innovation in infection prevention products can further drive improvements.”