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Healthcare Provider Supply Chain Response to COVID-19: Calling Your Shot for Recovery

by Eric O'Daffer  |  April 16, 2020  |  Submit a Comment

One of my favorite books is John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”  A large part of the book relates to the concept of “The Shot.” Throughout the book, the two main characters practice a basketball play over and over in preparation for an unknown time in the future when this specific skill will be needed. In the watershed moment of the book, the preparation for “the shot” pays off.  Not in the scoring of a basket but in saving lives in an unpredictable way.

In the past couple weeks, I have talked in depth with over twenty healthcare supply chain leaders.  I keep thinking about “the shot” and how many of these executives have worked their whole career to prepare for this moment.  This moment when supply chain capabilities, relationships and persistence rose to the challenge.   COVID-19 has not been predictable or without adversity in any way.   And yet, most leaders have found a way to keep products available somehow for their organizations. 

In my early conversations, leaders were so busy that we talked on weekends or after hours.  The focus was all on immediate needs and solutions.   Some leaders recently,  however, acknowledge that while they are still in immediate response mode, they also need to think strategically about the recovery phase (see Model 1 below).    Recovery, in the context of a healthcare provider, refers to as the balance between treating a leveling/declining number of COVID-19 patients while responding to the re-introduction of elective procedures and financial recovery of their organizations.      

Healthcare Supply Chain Response to Pandemic Waves

There are common actions for those executives still in heavy response mode.  The actions center mostly to Demand and Inventory Management initiatives, Supply Chain Innovation, PPE Conservation Policies, Global and Local Sourcing Initiatives and COVID-19 Testing Protocols.     My colleague Andrew Knight’s weekly “Resource Round Up” blog highlights many of the best of these resources within Gartner and beyond.

For those supply chain executives starting to plan for the Recovery phase, I suggest these three high level actions to consider:

  1. Revise your Strategic Plan for Supply Chain.  At least look at modifying the 2020 deliverables to your strategic plan and align to the changing reality for your organization.     For Gartner members, the Healthcare Provider Supply Chain Strategy Ignition Guide can be helpful.  Aligning supply chain to the goals of your IDN has never been more important. 
  2. Understand your IDN’s plan to re-introduce elective procedures.   Get ahead of the supply chain planning process to deliver based on the new demand forecast. We have heard several different strategies on the re-introduction of procedures.  Re-assigned supply chain staff need to transition back to procedural supply chain.
  3. Analyze and communicate the financial levers supply chain can pull. Look to inventory optimization, accounts payable and the impact of supply chain costs on the organization for COVID-19 care.  Share areas where less procedures meant less spending on traditional supplies and services.  Financial survival is part of recovery across all industry groups and healthcare is not immune.

Lastly, call your shot.  Document “lessons learned” during this recovery phase while fresh in your mind.     Start your foundational communication early as Senior Executives can have short memories related to supply chain.   Many of primary “response” themes are common to many IDNs.   

The message should be clear:  invest in supply chain and risk mitigation strategies.   Specifically, get early agreement for improved demand and inventory planning capabilities along with business continuity optimized sourcing strategies for critical products.   Build the case for investment in supply chain people, process and technology to deliver.   Then, make the shot like you know you can. 

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Eric O'Daffer
VP Analyst I
10 years at Gartner

Eric O'Daffer is a Research Vice President in the Gartner Healthcare Supply Chain group. Mr. O'Daffer's focus is on the end-to-end value chain, starting at the point of care looking back. He focuses most of his time with providers and how they best manage all the components of the supply chain. This involves both their internal processes as well as best practices for partnering with their suppliers and service providers to optimize the clinical effectiveness of their products and the best-delivered cost possible.Read Full Bio

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