Supply chains are the networks used to get goods from producers to consumers. They typically consist of logistics providers, warehouses, delivery vehicles, tracking software and other assets that help to facilitate the manufacture, packaging, pickup, transfer, storage and delivery of goods.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chains across the world experienced major disruptions. Even in 2022, the bottlenecks and setbacks from this period have gone on to create delays for goods that were once plentiful in retail stores and available for purchase online.
What’s Involved In Medical Supply Inventory?
In particular, medical supply chain professionals were hit with some serious challenges as a result of Covid-19. Because of the urgency with which healthcare supply chain management must be undertaken, disruptions could cause potentially life-threatening outcomes.
Even simple medical items like gauze and sanitation agents could lead to massive health concerns in situations where these items are not readily available when needed.
Inventory management requires medical facilities to not only have enough supplies available for routine treatments and procedures, but these facilities also need to be stocked for emergencies.
Hospital inventory management also requires both short- and long-term planning for the growth of the hospital and the growth of the communities the hospital serves.
Hospital Inventory Management Concerns In The Spotlight
In most cases, hospital supply chain concerns are handled by procurement specialists. These professionals coordinate with the various department managers around the facility to discover the needs of the hospital.
Most procurement specialists work with specialty suppliers due to the unique nature of medical supplies, and they may have difficulty finding replacements for these suppliers in the event that a shortage occurs.
Tracking software is also used to provide updated information when hospital supply becomes unbalanced. If too much or too little of a particular item is an issue within the facility’s inventory software tracking, the procurement manager can make adjustments.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is also making hospital supply chain management easier as AI systems can automatically sense when a particular item has reached or is reaching low levels. If this occurs, an order can automatically be placed to ensure supply does not run out.
Supply Chain Shortages And The Need For More Plastics
Because so many pieces of medical equipment are manufactured using plastics, professionals in charge of managing healthcare supply chain protocols have placed a particular focus on the potential for a plastic shortage.
In addition to the supply chain issues caused by Covid-19, the ongoing military action by Russia in Ukraine has led to sanctions on Russian oil. Because petroleum is used to make plastics, the situation has caused the supply of plastics to become tighter than usual.
Another concern in regard to plastics and medical equipment supply chain issues in general is that the current shortage is one that involves many products.
In the early days of the pandemic, shortages affecting ventilators and other emergency support equipment were particularly pressing, but they were limited to a few key items.
Currently, although the need is not considered as urgent, the need is wider as it involves shortages of everything from plastic tubing for IV lines to monitoring technology for heart patients.
To complicate matters further, when small mistakes are made in a medical supply chain during a larger overall supply chain crisis, the problems can become compounded.
One shipment that goes to the wrong medical facility means that not only will the correct facility not receive its shipment, thereby putting patients at risk, but the shipment must then be sent to the correct facility.
In a time when logistics companies are already stretched thin, this only adds to the greater challenge faced by packing, shipping and delivery companies.
Solving Hospital Supply Chain Issues
In the short term, it appears that supply chain issues are here to stay; however, experts believe that through planning and technology, these challenges are not insurmountable.
Hospital procurement professionals are having to make adjustments to planning schedules as some items that once had short lead times now have longer lead times. Simply making some adjustments in ordering and scheduling can make a difference.
Technology can assist in this effort as logistics professionals are finding new ways to route raw materials in the face of bottlenecks.
Home delivery services offered by Amazon and other retailers are also helping to shoulder some of the burdens that were once laid upon the United States Postal Service and private carriers like UPS and FedEx almost exclusively.
The hope is that by alleviating some of the pressure off of the USPS and private carriers, these services will be freer to focus on serving corporate clients hit hardest by supply chain issues.