Imagine (Sometimes it takes a Supply Chain Brain)

By September 9, 2015Uncategorized

Imagine.   Later today, Lora Cecere’s Global Summit kicks off in Phoenix.   This is the flag ship program for Supply Chain Insights (the analyst firm run by Lora Cecere) and it is absolutely a team effort, with lots of work by those who work for and with Lora.  But I purposefully called it Lora Cecere’s Global Summit, because it is Lora’s unending energy and passion around supply chain that makes this event unique among the growing number of supply chain events being held around the globe.  More importantly, it is her ability to challenge us to stop, even if for a moment, to look up from the pressures of our every day jobs and IMAGINE the supply chain of the future. That’s a question we asked some of the healthcare system leaders working with GHX earlier this year and captured in this news release.

It also reminds me of one of my favorite lines from Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you are going, then any road will take you there.”  The problem is, this is not wonderland, it’s reality, and for those of us who work in mission critical industries like healthcare, we need to know where we are going so we can start making plans now.  Healthcare is undergoing unprecedented change as we move from a system that rewards value, not volume.  To successfully navigate that change, we must stop once and a while and look up and consider not only where we are going, but also who or what we want to take with us, and what we need to leave behind.  Just as importantly, we should look to see who is already headed that way and if it makes sense to join them.  Think about what companies like Amazon and Walmart are doing in healthcare as good examples.  Who knows who else you might find along the way.

That’s one of the things I find so valuable about Lora’s Summit.  She introduces you to people, ideas and organizations that you might not think have anything to do with your world, but they do.  Two years ago, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel at the Global Summit on the healthcare supply chain of the future.  Sheepishly, I have to admit, I scratched my head when Lora first told me she had invited a professor from Arizona State University to talk about 3D printing to be on the panel.  To this day, it was one of the most enjoyable and educational sessions I have experienced.   It was also pretty rewarding when, just a few weeks later, a fellow board member with the Association for Healthcare Resource and Materials Management (AHRMM) asked if any of us knew much about 3D printing in healthcare, and I was able send him a link to the video of the panel.

What I learned in that panel is that 3D printing is not just about what this new technology can do for patient care, but also the broad reaching implications it will have on the healthcare supply chain.  Today, there are companies that are already manufacturing implants that are made specifically for a patient.  Who knows, in the future, those products may even be made on site, at the location where the surgery is being performed, maybe even during the procedure itself.  That certainly changes the nature of demand planning, inventory management and logistics.  And what about device tracking?  Upon her departure, former FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, said 3D printing was one of the things during her tenure that really changed how she thinks about device regulation.

This year, I am particularly looking forward to hearing the presentation by Maeve Magner on designing supply chains for emerging markets.   Maeve is the former CEO of the largest privately owned 3PL in Africa (RTT TransAfrica, which is now Imperial Health Sciences).  I took a few minutes to check out the Imperial Health Services website and was particularly intrigued by the concept of a clinic in a box, which can be quickly erected to meet the medical needs of people in remote and still developing regions of Africa.  The global healthcare supply chain in emerging countries is a huge undertaking (judging by the size of the US Agency for International Development’s Global Health Supply Chain – Procurement and Supply Management Project valued at $10.5 billion).  The need is great, and solutions like Clinic-in-a-Box are both innovative and effective.

I also believe we can apply similar kinds of thinking to how we solve challenges in healthcare in the developed world as well.  The transformation I mentioned above – from volume to value-based healthcare – requires, in my opinion, a supply chain mindset.  Supply chain brains, if you will, recognize the interdependencies within the healthcare system and provide the skills needed to improve quality, reduce costs, increase flexibility, mitigate risk and analyze data to measure the effectiveness of those initiatives.  For too many years, healthcare has been organized around the supply, e.g., the acute care hospital and the highly trained clinicians who work there.  I believe we need to organize more around the demand and the need, that is, the patient.  Sometimes, that need is the acutely ill or injured patient who needs to be treated in the acute care facility.  But other times, healthcare can and should be delivered in the community, where patients are and where they are more apt to take the time to receive the kind of care they need to prevent more serious and more expensive healthcare problems down the road.

As supply chain leaders, we focus on delivering the right product to the right place, at the right time, and at the right price.  Today, healthcare leaders must take that to the next level, matching specific patient needs with the right (most appropriate) practitioners (a nurse practitioner, a primary care physician, a specialist, an entire care team, etc.) who can deliver the right level of care (necessary, evidence-based tests, therapies, procedures and products) in the right setting (from the home to the acute care setting) and at the right price (commensurate with the cost to deliver and the quality received).  These are lofty goals to which those with supply chain expertise can relate and contribute.

I hope you will join me as we imagine the future.  You can check out more about the Global Summit at  I will be blogging here, there, and via from my Twitter account (@conwaycomments) all this week.

About Karen Conway

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