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Expert Opinions

Expert: How Hospitals Can Prepare for Supply Shortages

Determining what is critical, where the supplies are sourced, and inventory soft spots are essential to keeping a hospital running smoothly.
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Courtesy: iStock

Over the last two years, hospitals and other healthcare providers have faced medical supply shortages due to COVID-19.  In order to create a resiliency plan ahead of shortages in the future, these healthcare providers are reevaluating their supply chains.

Though the pandemic escalated supply shortages, these issues previously existed because of natural and other economic disasters. For example, the United States’ largest medical supplier of saline solutions is headquartered in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But since early 2008, Puerto Rico has faced various climate and energy crises that disrupted the saline solution supply chain. From 2017 to 2020 Puerto Rico recorded 13 earthquakes and a major hurricane, which also disrupted the supply chain.

Courtesy: Isikel

Hospitalizations and the demand for medical supplies increased during the pandemic, and medical supplies became harder to source. Hospitals do not want to face these same shortages again, so they are bolstering their medical supply stocks and developing strategies to prepare them for shortages that may lie ahead.

Here are three ways hospitals and healthcare providers can prepare themselves for any supply chain disruptions.

Determine Critical Supplies

The pandemic not only exacerbated supply chain issues, but also highlighted the most vital medical supplies when interacting with the public. Because they were so hard to source, prices skyrocketed to a point where suppliers were selling nitrile gloves for more than three to five times the pre-pandemic price.

The demand for nitrile gloves is only expected to increase in the years to come. According to Grand View Research, the global nitrile gloves market size was estimated at $8.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 5.7 percent from 2022 to 2030. This expected growth paired with any unexpected supply chain disruption could create massive shortages. To mitigate this risk, hospital staff should identify the most needed medical supplies in the event of a shortage or increase in patients and adopt a plan to source the most essential items during times of shortages.

Purchase from Domestic Manufacturers

As the pandemic continues, the debate between domestic and international manufacturing has flared and many industries are re-examining where the source of their materials. Hospitals are evaluating their own supply chains, and it’s important for them to understand the benefits of buying domestically. Logistics were a huge headache during the pandemic for many hospitals to source their materials. Those logistics were amplified if supplies were shipped internationally due to closed overseas factories and backups at ports of entry.

To secure a continuous flow of hard-to-source medical supplies, a hospital should find a local vendor to fill in the gap when their primary supplier cannot meet the demand. The local vendor or supplier is a safety net for hospitals. Cultivating a relationship with local suppliers is crucial to continue serving patients when primary vendors are unable to fill orders.

Check Inventory

Inventory and storage for hospitals should be closely monitored so hospitals avoid becoming the victim of another supply chain crisis. Most medical supplies have expiration dates, and it is important to monitor these. Keeping a close eye on inventory and the expirations dates can maximize its use and reduce waste.

But hospitals are built to maximize patient care, not storage space. However, the pandemic created a need to stockpile medical supplies. Using off-site storage allows hospitals to increase inventory in anticipation of supply chain disruptions. Should a hospital use off-site storage, it is important to monitor warehousing and manage just-in-time deliveries in order to avoid having to use patient rooms and waiting areas for supply storage.

As COVID-19 variants and natural disasters continue to threaten supply chains, it is important for hospitals to create a plan that allows them to quickly adapt and ensures the continuation of care by sourcing the necessary medical supplies.

Valerie Vickrey is a managing partner at Isikel, a manufacturer and distributor of medical supplies.


Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior editor for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…

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