Focusing on n-tier visibility on both sides of the OEM can mitigate disruptions, improve access to medical devices, and ultimately enhance patient care.

In a recent Healthcare Technology Report article, the FDA is reported as once again raising concerns about medical device shortages and the importance of visibility in the medical device supply chain, reinforcing what most of us already know is a critical issue facing the healthcare industry.

The focus is primarily on upstream visibility (from suppliers to the OEM). Essentially, “make sure you know where you’re getting your stuff (raw materials, component parts, etc.), and make sure you know what can/is impacting those suppliers’ ability to deliver.” (That’s not a direct quote, by the way.)

Seems logical enough. But there’s something missing from statements like these.

Sure, it is critical to know how quickly you can deliver on new or replenishment devices, and what upstream issues might be impacting your ability to secure that inventory in a timely manner. But what about the devices that are currently idle in your distribution network? What about the inventory you have already built, already paid for, that’s floating blindly downstream because you just don’t have eyes on it and, therefore, aren’t leveraging?

When we think about achieving n-tier visibility of our supply chains, we need to consider the importance of extending this visibility to encompass the entire medical device value chain, from the warehouse to the point of use, not just sub-tier suppliers.

Focusing on multi-tier visibility on both sides of the OEM can mitigate disruptions, improve access to medical devices, and ultimately enhance patient care. And oh yeah, it can have a significant impact on your bottom line.

Great. But how do you do that?

This may sound so obvious it’s ridiculous, but the reality is pretty straightforward. You need to nail 3 things:

  1. Strong Processes
  2. Effective tools
  3. Rigorous practice

Strong Processes

Interestingly, the first–and arguably most important step–tends to be the most complicated and difficult to achieve. Why? Typically, it is because you are un-making the current world in favor of re-making a better one. And, unfortunately, not everyone likes ‘better.’

Creating well-defined and structured procedures that ensure consistency, efficiency, and compliance for device tracking and management once your assets enter the building, all the way through their remaining life cycle is critical. It’s like creating a series of roadmaps that serve to get everyone on the same page about the actual processes for facilitating transparency, traceability, and accountability from the warehouse, to the individual distributors and sales rep, down to consignment to and use in the healthcare facility.

Effective Tools

Building a house? You’re going to need a hammer. Managing a complex, multi-dimensional value chain? Please leave the hammer at home. 

Every job requires the right tools. The key is to know which tools are right, and then make sure you have them at your disposal. And yes, you also need to actually use them.

In this case, the right tools include software applications, data management systems, analytics platforms, and other technological solutions that enable the collection, integration, analysis, and visualization of data across the value chain. 

The key here is data.

You need to capture data the moment an asset comes through the door and you need to keep refreshing it until that asset has been paid for. Every time it moves. Every time it turns (or sits idle). Every inspection, every revision, every request, every tracking number; everything. Anything. And that means you’re going to need to implement tools for every stakeholder in the equation: operations, warehousing, finance, distributed sales, downstream customers … everyone. 

By capturing data, and implementing tools that can leverage that data, you create opportunities for automating and streamlining processes. You enhance data accuracy. You can facilitate real-time monitoring, and provide actionable insights.

Leveraging the right tools–tools that support your processes–gives you a holistic view of the value chain so you can optimize your operations for improved visibility and efficiency.  

Rigorous practice

If item 1 was the hardest to achieve, this one is, arguably, the hardest to sustain. 

Most people don’t like being told what to do, the same way they don’t like going to the gym. Fine. Unfortunately, a lot of people need to be told what to do, and then constantly reminded to do it until it becomes a habit. Why?

  • Because they don’t care about your business the way you do.
  • They don’t see the big picture.
  • They haven’t considered the second and third-order consequences of non-compliance. 
  • They don’t like anything that feels like extra work.
  • And on and on and on …

It’s a long list. But it doesn’t change the fact that a disciplined and thorough approach to establishing standards, regulations, and best practices is the linchpin that holds it all together.

Rigorous practice includes robust quality control measures, rigorous documentation and record-keeping, meticulous data management, and continuous monitoring and auditing of operations, especially asset utilization, and location. It also involves proactive risk assessment and mitigation strategies to identify and address potential vulnerabilities or disruptions in the value chain. 

The good news?

The reality is, if you do these things right, they each support the other and each step makes the next step orders of magnitude easier. Seriously. 

If you build the right processes up front, with exhaustive reflection on needs and long-term goals, you clarify for yourself and your team which tools are needed, what functions they need to serve, and what requirements have to be satisfied.

If you pick the right tools, keep your team in mind, and focus on usability and sustainability, you’ll improve your chances that constant rigorous practice won’t feel quite so cumbersome (or oppressive).

And if you keep your eyes on practice and the actual behaviors of your team, you will see very quickly where weaknesses exist, where you have opportunities for improvement and … wait for it … innovation. You’ll also see what gaps need to be filled to support the overall health of the value chain.

I know this all seems daunting. “Wouldn’t it just be easier to keep doing things the same way we always have?” Well, no, actually. Not really. Once you realize how much waste sits in your current process–human capital, actual dollars, missed opportunities–any effort required to improve visibility downstream will pale by comparison.