How to use IT to improve healthcare supply chain operations

Increasing complexity of provisioning technologies requires improved IT connectivity to achieve needed coordination that saves money and patients’ lives.

It’s the responsibility of the doctor’s office or hospital to ensure adequately treatment of patients. That means having the right tools and potentially life-saving supplies on hand when needed.

Visibility into supply chains, then, is critical to ensure supply rooms are stocked so organizations can better treat patients. Information technology is playing an increasingly important role in achieving these goals.

But connected healthcare supply chain operations are complex. They consist of various moving parts and involve countless processes that require secure and reliable communications among:
  • Manufacturers, distributors and group purchasing organizations
  • Hospitals, labs and clinics
  • Insurance companies and health exchanges
  • Transportation, logistics and warehousing organizations
  • Regulatory agencies

Further exacerbating the complexity of the healthcare supply chain is that different departments within these organizations often have varied ordering, billing and approval processes – and even different systems altogether. It becomes a certified hodgepodge of data entry software, supply and inventory management solutions, insurance and payment applications, and EDI technologies that don’t natively communicate with one another.

So how do organizations capitalize on the promises of a well-oiled supply chain that lowers costs, reduces inefficiencies, and improves patient care? First, they must consider the importance of supply chain processes and align them with company-wide goals of delivering high-quality care.

Having just the right amount of supplies is important. Too few of these products could threaten patient care; too many items result in overstocked supply rooms, storage and time inefficiencies, and wasted or misappropriated funds. And drug shortages can prove extremely costly for providers.

Most healthcare organizations support the basic supply chain functions—looking up supply inventories, placing an order, facilitating payment and signing off on delivery. But the more complex operations continue to challenge organizations.

Consider what it takes to support the shipment of blood, plasma, and other highly sensitive biologics. Such products have limited shelf lives that require temperature- , humidity- and light-controlled delivery and heightened governance. Furthermore, some pharmaceuticals now require global serialization as part of the Drug Quality and Security Act to identify and trace prescription drugs as they are distributed around the United States.

These supply chain operations that rely heavily on tagging tools, RFID devices, and other new-age technology require a whole new level of security, tracking and governance to meet increasingly rigorous compliance standards.

Such emerging data movement requirements don’t come naturally to most organizations – especially healthcare organizations, which primarily treat people, not move goods. However, medical organizations are already technologically positioned to optimize the supply chain, as they are already heavily invested in solutions to securely exchange patient medical information.

It’s critical, then, to align supply chain goals throughout the organization, as siloed departments beget siloed information – a noble enemy of operational efficiency. Achieving companywide integration can then bring the entire lifecycle into view and allow medical organizations to control inventory, manage costs and improve workflows.

The marriage of technology, process and people will be driven by a modern integration platform built with the flexibility, speed, and security to ensure reliable communications and comprehensive transparency throughout the ecosystem.

Organizations likely already have the tools—even some integration tools—they need to complete daily tasks. But do they communicate with one another? Are they delivering actions without scripting? Do you spend time manually pushing or pulling data through?

Any standalone, non-integrated technology pieces are part of the problem. They must be designed into an overall integration strategy where interoperability among the various internal and external systems is the oil that greases the supply chain wheels.

Do your ordering systems integrate with your inventory management software? Where do finance and billing link up? Are all of these things communicating with your EDI and file sharing solutions?

Even with multiple disparate systems in place—and many more people-centric data transfers to manage—it is possible to effectively govern the internal and external information flows that power the supply chain and maintain compliance. It requires a modern information integration platform that bridges these systems and enables effective data management.

To effectively manage the supply chain, then, healthcare organizations must deploy integration technology to:
  • Securely connect multiple information-generating sources, including all inventory management software, B2B and EDI systems, and cloud solutions using a single platform that interoperates with existing applications and infrastructure.
  • Transform data into a usable format for the entire trading partner network.
  • Make data available for end-to-end visibility into the distribution lifecycle to reduce financial errors, raise flags on duplicate or superfluous orders, and forecast potential shipping disruptions.
  • Manage the trading partner community to enable customer and supplier integration, and improve the patient experience.
  • Govern data along its journey inside and outside the organization to ensure maximum data quality and accuracy, meet SLAs, and maintain compliance.
  • Employ event-based processing and workflow orchestration to fully automate your data exchange, reducing lead times and improving fulfillment.

Organizations actively deploying such capabilities will improve their business and their customers’ business of delivering the premium care that sets them apart from the competition.

With such a valuable role in today’s digital ecosystem, the supply chain is critical to any variety of healthcare companies, but pharmaceutical, biologic, or medical device businesses cannot function if products cannot reach doctors, pharmacies, and, most importantly, patients.

That’s why leading organizations turn to modern integration technology to build reliability into their supply chains by facilitating easy connectivity, widespread automation, and comprehensive visibility across the entire distribution process.

Octapharma is one of the world’s largest human protein fractionators, developing and manufacturing both recombinant and human cell line therapies. Octapharma’s product lines focus on treating patients with moderate to severe coagulation and immunology disorders. These patients rely on these therapies to enhance their everyday lives, which is why a reliable and integrated supply chain is critical for Octapharma.

“The main focus for us right now is within the supply chain space. This includes logistics and connecting with our trading partners,” said Michael Donham, IT director for Octapharma USA. “Things like inventory control, stock management control, distribution, purchase orders and invoicing—that’s what we must control to optimize our supply chain operations and responsibly deliver these critical biologic therapies to patients.”

Transparency across the full supply chain drives better analytical decisions and optimizes operations from production to destination, ensuring your company streamlines workflows and mitigates preventable disruptions to your business.

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