Understanding the trends affecting the medical supply chain

A streamlined supply chain is essential for hospitals to attain a high degree of operational efficiency. Although, Indian healthcare centers are still operating on manual supply chain procedures there are certain trends which are starting to appear in the medical supplies industry as technology is gradually getting integrated into the system.

Globally there is a pressing need in the healthcare industry to automate inventory systems and analytics to reduce revenue leakages. Excess or shortage of stock, expiry loss, low inventory turnover, high inventory carrying cost affect the cost of healthcare delivery. When it comes to cost reduction and improve efficiency, three words that strike are “supply chain management.” Businesses typically focus on improving the bottom line by streamlining the supply chain, however, bringing in operational efficiency is relatively new in the healthcare industry.

Medical supply chain management is one of the most pivotal functions of medical establishments. The function needs to ensure that the patients are treated on time as planned with the availability of required and adequate medical supplies. The supply chain process starts with hospitals contacting vendors to inquire about medical supplies to receiving the requirements at the facility. Hospitals need to ensure that every step of the process is streamlined and transparent so that they don’t end up spending disproportionate finances, purchase the wrong products and jeopardize patient care.

In India, procurement of medical supply has been more or less handled manually. Hospitals connect with multiple dealers, distributors or manufacturers for their supplies which not only take a significant amount of time but at times can lead to wrong purchases, excesses, shortages of supplies.

However, due to technology, the supply chain process is now shifting to online platforms. It is not only ensures a consistent and smooth supply of medical essentials for hospitals but also assures savings. Following trends are emerging in the medical supply industry because of this shift.

One of the significant advantages of an online supply chain process is the consolidation of medical supplies at one place i.e. a single point of purchase. Hospitals no longer have to contact multiple vendors for their supplies. Also, on online platforms, they can choose the same product from a variety of different brands and manufacturers, compare them and then purchase accordingly. Via a single purchase point from an online platform, they can buy their requirements without the hassle of having to work out between numerous quotations. This way medical institutions can make their purchase process more simplified.

Reduce Cost:
As mentioned above, online platforms empower the buyer with detailed information on product and pricing. Medical facilities can choose from a big catalog of medical products and can compare them. They can clearly distinguish between specifications, prices which can assist them in making an informed purchase decision. Such a process prevents hospitals from buying mediocre supplies at disproportionate prices which can not only affect their Total Cost of Operations (TCO) but more importantly, patient care. Online platforms provide hospitals with notifications and reminders which can help them to procure well in time. All these aspects help medical institutions to reduce their OPEX without compromising on patient care.

Efficient Distribution:
One of the core problems of a fragmented medical supply chain is a broken distribution system. In India, especially in tier 2, 3 cities and rural locations, healthcare centers suffer from a lack of essential supplies. Geographically, they are placed in such locations where conventional distribution chains don’t reach. Online procurement systems, with last mile delivery services, cut across distances and ensure that supplies can reach in remote areas. As medical institutions gradually make use of online procurement systems, their supply chain will become more efficient and streamlined. It can make healthcare more accessible.

Data-based Planning:
To plan the purchase of medical supplies, it is imperative that hospitals analyze their inventory. Data is the central theme here. Data regarding patient inflow, equipment, and medical supplies inventory must be recorded. The same can be used for procurement planning. Advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning can help predict the requirements of hospitals. Such predictive analysis can be helpful in preventing the unavailability of medical supplies on regular days and also during emergency situations. A consistent and high-quality patient care service can also be ensured. Also, based on such analysis, hospitals can allocate the right amount of funds for procurement. This will help medical institutions to avoid shortages and excesses of stock and also manage their operational costs efficiently.

Medical establishments need to understand the benefits of data, analytics, and technology in supply chain strategy. They must focus on better processes, treatment, and supplies to bring patients the best care possible. The healthcare industry is always going through changes where medical establishments are continually looking to enhance their supplies and treatment procedures. Implementing an integrated system and gathering crucial data for projections, innovations and quality standards is critical to increase accessibility and affordability of healthcare.

The article was featured in the November edition of Express Healthcare

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