How Technology Bridges Clinical and Supply Chain Areas in Hospitals

Typically, hospitals have been quite good at adopting technologies that help them provide better patient care, such as cutting-edge surgical equipment and patient check-in, appointment scheduling, and telehealth systems, to name a few. 

However, when it comes to investing in technologies that support efficient functioning, streamline administrative tasks, or improve business operations, adoption has been sometimes frustratingly slow. This has generally been the case for EMR, more modern ERP, risk management, cyber security, and supply chain. 

With regard to hospital supply chain operations, there have been some legitimate barriers to overcome in implementing new technologies. For example, new technology implementations require the engagement and leadership of many diverse constituents, such as clinical, supply chain, finance, IT, and value analysis departments. 

These tech implementations also require the commitment of human and capital resources, which often become a real challenge to secure. 

Most of the most common hurdles can be boiled down to the following:

  1. Cost objections;
  2. Numerous competing priorities;
  3. Excessive attachment to the status quo;
  4. Resistance to change and aversion to risk; and a
  5. Lack of internal expertise in business optimization and modernization through technology implementations

The healthcare supply chain still lags way behind other industries in our society, such as retail. There is still a lot of learning to do in the healthcare sphere and a lack of expertise for confidently undertaking such projects. 

The push for UDI adoption and interoperability is encouraging hospitals to implement automated data capture technology systems that are at the heart of an effective supply chain, but we still have a long way to go. 

The current focus on a clinically integrated supply chain is also pushing technology adoption. Supply chain and clinical work are interdependent. For example, clinicians are entrusted by supply chain to collect clinical product usage for patient care so that they can place orders to replenish the inventory. And clinicians rely on supply chain to have their desired products available, on-hand, and safe to use (not expired or recalled) to treat patients. 

Newer Cloud-based technologies, that can easily disseminate updated and accurate supply chain information across different systems, support effective data flow, which is the foundation of the value chain that connects supply chain and clinical work. And as data capture technologies are being adopted for inventory management and supply chain optimization, they ensure consistent and up-to-date data sets that provide users with full visibility and trackability across systems, from ordering to receiving to tracking to documenting supplies and implants at the point of care. 

To state the obvious, the work of clinicians is at the core of patient care. Any technology benefits to them have to be clear and plentiful, and their usage easy-to-use and burden-free. When the utilization of clinical supplies and implants is highly automated and makes documentation during a procedure faster and more accurate, this means more time freed up for clinicians to provide patient care and support other team members. 

And when products are predictably available and easy to identify and locate, this means less time running around searching for them, fewer trips to the supply rooms, greater provider satisfaction and less burnout, and ultimately a better experience for patients.

The interdependence of supply chain/inventory management and clinical work has always been evident, but integration and interoperability between technologies and data flows in both these areas are essential if we want to ensure patient safety, superior care outcomes, staff satisfaction, cost control, and operational efficiency. 

There is still much work ahead to take full advantage of the technological opportunities that already exist today (such as in the form of UDI-compliant RAIN RFID), and those that are on the horizon using AI, but hospitals are finally on the right path.