May 17, 2020

Managing The Medical Supply Chain

Supply Chain Management
Medical Supply Chain
3 min
Managing Hospital Supply Chain Efficiency
Follow @HealthCareG Believe it or not, supply chain activities account for approximately 50 percent of hospital budgets when you factor in the cost of...

Believe it or not, supply chain activities account for approximately 50 percent of hospital budgets when you factor in the cost of the goods, procurement, storage, engineering, pharmacy, food service and nurses' time spent on supply chain activities. It's no wonder then that supply chain management should be a top priority for hospital CEOs, but unbelievably many don’t consider the supply chain from a strategic perspective.

The economic downturn has had a positive effect in this respect, giving supply chain management a renewed prominence, boosting it in many hospitals from the basement to the executive suite and organisations that have placed strategic focus on the discipline are reaping significant savings. But there are still a lot of changes that can be made to streamline hospital supply chains and it's necessary considering that by 2020, medical supplies will surpass labour as the biggest expense for hospitals and health systems.

Where To Start

  • Standardise commodities
  • Maximise use of contracts with group purchasing organisations
  • Manage inventory
  • Use relationships with vendors to the fullest extent

By addressing the tasks above, hospitals and health systems will immediately recognise significant savings. However, the biggest opportunity lies in resource utilisation and reducing variation in care. As Ed Smith, Executive Director of Supply Chain Management, University of Mississippi explains, “You cannot sacrifice quality for cost. For that reason we don’t base our decisions solely on cost. In some cases, the higher cost item is associated with better outcomes. If we can reduce length of stay, eliminate infections and speed recovery time, we are impacting the bottom line in a big way.”

With this in mind it is also essential that physicians are involved in the decision making process to both enhance their understanding and to receive valuable input on care delivery processes.


Key Steps To Effective Supply Chain Management

“Whoever can deliver care at the highest quality and the lowest cost will be the winner,” says Richard Gundling, Vice President of The Healthcare Financial Management Association. These key steps will help CEOs manage strategic supply chain and garner the best return on investment.


 As a supply chain officer it is important to understand that you don’t know everything. Building relationships with colleagues, both clinical and non-clinical throughout the organisation and listening to their feedback will help make the supply chain more efficient and workable long term. 


Organisations need to engage physicians proactively in supply chain management. By placing them in leadership positions on value-analysis committees can help achieve significant buy-in from medical staff. They also have the technical know-how and can thus be involved in contract negotiations, formulary development and technology assessment. 


Eliminating variations in care through the adoption of evidence-based medicine not only improves outcomes, but also reduces expenses. Reducing readmissions and preventing infections, among other things, optimizes reimbursement and places less pressure on the supply chain.


The supply chain should be integrated with the care delivery process. A high-performing supply chain delivers the right product, at the right time, in the right quantity, at the right cost, resulting in improved outcomes and greater efficiency.


The need for automation in the supply chain is clear. Lack of automation can lead to overstock and overspending on supplies. Materials management information systems provide real-time information on pricing, product availability, contract compliance and usage. Automation also enhances supply chain accuracy and expedites the billing process.


The adoption of supply chain standards such as GS1 can enhance efficiency, patient safety and regulatory compliance.


The value analysis process helps hospitals determine whether they are getting the right product at the right prices. Value analysis teams provide nurses, physicians and others a say in product utilization and performance.


Process improvement methodologies, such as Lean and Six Sigma, can identify inefficiencies within the supply chain and streamline processes.

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Jun 13, 2021

How healthcare can safeguard itself against cyberthreats

Jonathan Miles
6 min
Jonathan Miles, Head of Strategic Intelligence and Security Research at Mimecast, tells us how the healthcare sector can protect itself from attacks

One of the most fundamental lessons from the COVID crisis is that health should always be a priority.  In a similar fashion to the human body that frequently fights off viruses and foreign invaders that intend to cause it harm, the sector itself is now a prime target for another type of external threat: cyberattacks.

The figures speak for themselves: between December and January this year, hospitals in the UK were at 89% capacity, with 7,000 fewer available beds than there usually are. As the pandemic increased pressure on hospitals, clinics, and research facilities to create a treatment for patients globally, it has left the sector exposed to hackers who, like a virus, have been targeting it relentlessly and evolving their tactics. 

From patient records being held ransom, to fake emails claiming to originate from the UN WHO, the NHS, or vaccine centres, through to attacks on the cold supply chain to find out the secret formula of the COVID vaccine, the healthcare industry is facing constant cyberattacks and struggling to cope. This threat is unlikely to go away anytime soon – and as such, the industry needs to take a proactive, preventative stance to stay safe in a dynamic digital world. 

Going digital 

The responsive nature of healthcare – particularly of hospitals – means that efficiency is crucial to the industry’s standard operations. To support this, the sector has been embracing technological advancements that can improve the quality of work, enabling staff to meet pressing deadlines, and enhancing patient care. For example, the industry has been digitising records and improving its ways of working through digital means over the past few years. 

This shift is critical to offer high quality patient care; yet, it also means the sector has become more dependent on IT, which can come with a risk if cybersecurity processes employed are deemed as inadequate. 

Without the correct security measures in place, the desired efficiency gains realised, can be easily lost in a heartbeat. Simply put, an elementary glitch in the system can have a tremendous ripple effect on many areas, from accessing patient records and conducting scans, to maintaining physical security and protecting the intellectual property of experimental treatment development.

To prevent this, healthcare organisations need to ensure they’re considering cybersecurity as part of their overall digital transformation strategy – and setting the right foundations to create a culture where safety goes hand in hand with patient care. 

Strengthening defences

Before implementing cybersecurity process, healthcare organisations need to assess the potential risks they face. Depending on how much confidential data the trust has, where it is stored, who has access to it and via which means, the cybersecurity strategy and associated solutions will change. 

It’s fair to say that a medical device start-up where all employees have a corporate-sanctioned laptop and access data via a VPN will have radically different needs to a large hospital with hundreds of frontline workers connecting to the hospital’s Wi-Fi using their personal device. 

These requirements will pale by comparison to a global pharmaceutical giant with offices in multiple locations, a large R&D department researching new treatments for complex diseases and a fully integrated supply chain. Considering the existing setup and what the organisations is looking to achieve with its digital transformation strategy will therefore have an immediate impact on the cybersecurity strategy.

Despite this, there are fundamentals that any organisation should implement: 
Review and test your back-up policy to ensure it is thorough and sufficient – By checking that the organisation’s back-up is running smoothly, IT teams can limit any risks of disruption in the midst of an incident and of losing data permanently.

In our recent State of Email Security report, we found that six out of ten organisations have been victims of ransomware in 2020. As a result, afflicted organisations have lost an average of six days to downtime. One third of organisations even admitted that they failed to get their data back, despite paying the ransom. In the healthcare industry, this could mean losing valuable patient records or data related to new treatments – two areas the sector cannot afford to be cavalier about.

Conduct due diligence across the organisation’s supply chain – Healthcare organisations should review their ways of working with partners, providers and regulatory institutions they work with in order to prevent any weak link in their cybersecurity chain. Without this due diligence, organisations leave themselves exposed to the risks of third party-led incidents. 

Roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training - Healthcare organisations shouldn’t neglect the training and awareness of their entire staff – including frontline workers who may not access the corporate network on a regular basis. According to our State of Email Security report, only one fifth of organisations carry out ongoing cyber awareness training.

This suggests it is not widely considered as a fundamental part of most organisations cyber-resilience strategy, despite the fact many employees rely on their organisation’s corporate network to work. By providing systematic training, healthcare organisations can help workers at all levels better understand the current cyberthreats they face, how they could impact their organisation, the role they play in defending the networks, and develop consistent, good cybersecurity hygiene habits to limit the risks of incidents. 
Consider a degree of separation – Information and Operational Technology (IT and OT) networks should be separated.

Although mutually supported and reliance on each other, employees shouldn’t be accessing one via the other. This should be complemented by a considered tried and tested contingency and resiliency plan that allows crucial services to function unabated should there be a compromise. Similarly, admin terminals should not have internet access to afford a degree of hardening and protection for these critical accounts.

As the sector becomes a common target for fraudulent and malicious activity, putting cybersecurity at the core of the organisation’s operations is critical. It will help limit the risks of disruption due to cyberattacks, reduce time spent by the cybersecurity team to resolve easily avoidable errors, and ensure that institutions can deliver patient care, safe in the knowledge that their networks are safe.  

Fighting future threats

With technology continuing to change the face of healthcare, the surface area and vectors available for attacks by malicious actors is constantly increasing. With the introduction of apps, networked monitoring devices, and a need for communication, the attack vector is ever expanding, a trend that needs to be monitored and secured against.

To prevent any damage to patients, staff, or the organisation they are responsible for, healthcare leaders must put security front and centre of their digital transformation strategy. Only then can the sector harness the full benefits of technology. Doing this should include implementing cybersecurity awareness training to challenge misconceptions around security, encourage conversation, and to ensure employee knowledge of the security basics and threats faced. 

This ultimately allows healthcare organisations to do what they do best: provide the highest standard of patient care, safe in the knowledge that their operations, patients, and data are safe.

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