COVID-19 is Forcing Medical Supply Chains to Change… And that’s a Good Thing: Part III

By Connor Smith

Hello everybody! Welcome to the conclusion of my series on how COVID-19 is changing medical supply chains. In Parts I & II I talked about how the pandemic is forcing U.S medical supply chains of the future to embrace digitization and automation, rep-less sales models for high cost implantable medical devices, and the influence that domestic manufacturing and value-based healthcare are having on their evolution. Before I conclude this series, I’ll add the caveat that medical supply chains will evolve in a myriad of ways far beyond just the six I addressed. These are simply what I believe are the most profound changes on the horizon for these complex systems. Now, let me dive into the two final transformative forces that will reshape U.S medical supply chains in the post-pandemic era.

5. Sophisticated Risk Analysis & Disaster Planning Software

COVID-19 is far from the first environmental disruption global supply chains have faced in recent times. There was the SARS outbreak in 2003, the Ebola virus in 2014, and natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes that occur frequently and can have devastating economic impacts. In fact, as many as 85% of supply chains experience at least one major disruption per year. The reality of the modern era is that globalized supply chain networks allow us to consume goods and services at incredibly low  prices, but they are also riddled with ‘achilles heels’ that can shake global economies if perturbed.

As I mentioned in Part II, one way U.S based providers and manufacturers will look to mitigate such interruptions in the future is by ensuring geographic redundancies throughout supplier networks and logistics partners and leveraging domestic manufacturing. While this approach will be one core component of U.S medical supply chain architecture in the future, an overall proactive, strategic approach to supply chain design will be paramount. Hence, medical supply chains of the future will be designed using sophisticated risk analysis software that leverages predictive analytics and advanced simulations to model for possible disruptions like pandemics and natural disasters before committing to suppliers and plan accordingly.

Academics have been developing operational supply chain risk analysis models that leverage AI and advanced computational methods for well over a decade, and supply chain experts across all industries have known the benefits of proactive supply chain risk mitigation for some time. A 2017 study conducted by Deloitte found that taking a proactive approach to supply chain risk management can save firms up to 50% when managing major disruptions. As medical supply chains become increasingly transparent and digitized, investments into proactive risk assessment technologies will be one of the best ROI that medical supply chain management teams can make. Using tools like predictive analytics, supply chain management teams will be able to quantify the risk of using a particular supplier by modeling scenarios like the spread of a virus to a particular region, losing a key manufacturing plant to a natural disaster, and more. Some researchers have already started developing simulation based analyses for global supply chain disruptions resulting from the spread of COVID-19, and it is reasonable to expect that using such models for supply chain planning in the future will become the norm. 

6. Integrating Population Health Analytics 

Originally posited by David Kindig and Greg Stoddart as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group”, population health has become a fairly nebulous term used to describe the overall health of patient populations. ‘Pop health’ research encompasses everything from studying how socioeconomic factors like income levels, race, or education level influence the prevalence of certain conditions to the prevalence of various genes in communities and how that affects disease spread and more. Depending on who you talk to, they likely have a different view as to what population health is and the responsibility that providers and manufacturers have in improving outcomes.

Regardless of your thoughts around what population health ecompases, as healthcare continues to evolve towards a value-based model it is inevitable that population health will play an increasingly vital role in how providers deliver care. Value-based incentive structures are designed to drive healthcare towards what the Institute of Healthcare Improvement refers to as the ‘Triple Aim’: improving the patient care experience, improving the health of populations, and reducing the per capita cost of healthcare. An overview of the triple aim is pictured below.

Image Adapted from Health Catalyst

Prior to the pandemic, providers were starting to integrate population health initiatives with supply chain management to combat the increasing strain they felt from over half of the U.S adult population having at least one or more chronic diseases. For example, Indiana-based Eskenazi Health extended its partnership with Meals on Wheels in 2017 to deliver healthy meals to patients discharged from the hospital at their home in an effort to reduce readmission rates. A recent analysis published by Providence Health System found that COVID-19 is accelerating this transition to a distributed care model in which patients receive personalized care from their homes or local clinics instead of at a Health System. They found that the use of virtual care technologies coupled with the desire to reduce unnecessary visits because of the pandemic is forcing medical supply chains to become more personalized. 

It is reasonable to suspect that the medical supply chains of the future will become increasingly patient-centric and account for the socioeconomic, genetic, and other key factors that influence a patient population’s well-being. The Internet of Medical Things market is growing at over 20% year over year and technologies and will likely increase due to the rapid adoption of telehealth & remote patient monitoring technologies because of the pandemic. These platforms will enable providers to gather more information about their patient population than ever before and construct truly personalized care plans. Medical supply chain teams of the future will integrate this information with predictive analytics models to not only ensure that patients receive the best possible care, when and where they need it, and at the lowest cost, but also make cost effective population-level interventions that improve overall societal health levels. 

In Conclusion
I hope you enjoyed the final installment of my series on the future of U.S medical supply chains! Interested in learning more or ways your medical supply chain could be improved? Feel free to contact us at Consensus Networks, where our HealthNet technology is being used to reinvent medical supply chains for the post-pandemic era.