The Clinically Integrated Health Care Supply Chain

Health care professional interacting with virtual icon chart representing health care supply chain processes

It goes without saying that health is one of the greatest human assets; without it, everything else in an individual’s life is compromised. Technological innovation within the health care system, therefore, doesn’t have the same objective as, say, creating a new and improved smartphone. Medical professionals, researchers, and technologists must work to combine the knowledge in their relative fields in order to improve patient outcomes.

But health care supply chains still involve fractured processes, which are compounded by the drastic increases in health care costs. In the constant striving to contain costs while also trying to keep up with the implementation of new technologies — which ultimately will reduce costs in the long run — clinical integration is often overlooked.

Deploying the latest medical technology should have a strong and direct correlation with patient outcome improvement. But this isn’t always the case. The health care system frequently operates in a fragmented way, as it involves many different types of specialists and settings (e.g., hospitals, urgent care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, ambulatory surgical centers, clinics, and medical offices). Because of this, assessing supply chain costs vs. advancing patient care can be a convoluted process.

A truly integrated health care supply chain is collaborative, assimilating data directly from clinical practitioners who are dealing directly with patients, as well as from medical facilities and medical suppliers themselves. But how can this be achieved?

Involve Physicians in the Medical Supply Purchasing Process

Input from physicians is crucial for determining which medical supplies are actually being used and whether they are helping the patient healing process. While a physician’s primary objective is, of course, patient care, they should also be aware of medical supply costs. If periodic cost analysis meetings with physicians aren’t already in place, they should be established as soon as possible.

The key is collaboration rather than interrogation or admonishment of medical professionals. If there are alternative supplies that help reduce costs while still maintaining high-quality patient care, then these should be discussed. Short surveys are another valuable data-gathering avenue; they can be administered more frequently in between cost analysis meetings. By keeping the surveys brief and to the point (perhaps 5 to 10 minutes maximum), physicians can provide information quickly and without disrupting their patient care duties.

Reduce Product Variation

This does not mean arbitrarily narrowing down the medical supplies available to the health care staff. On the contrary, the available medical supplies relevant to each specialty area should be carefully examined for:

  • Evidentiary support of their applicability in improved patient outcomes
  • Overall quality when compared to supplies that cost more or less
  • The total cost of using particular medical tools
  • Whether or not the devices are a viable choice for standardization — in other words, they’re either the only choice or one of a limited set of options that physicians have to choose from

Looking Ahead

This is not a comprehensive list for achieving a clinically integrated health care supply chain. There are much more granular aspects to consider, such as analyzing supplier performance and determining the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of the entire medical supply management system being used.

But to achieve a truly collaborative environment that maintains focus on the patient, involving physicians in the health care supply chain is a huge step forward for reducing supply costs while continuously improving patient outcomes.


Image credit: LeoWolfert /

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