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5 Traits Supply Chain Leaders Need to Survive in Today's Evolving Healthcare Landscape

By Scott Nelson, SVP of Supply Chain, Cardinal Health

Scott Nelson, SVP of Supply Chain, Cardinal Health

Successful healthcare organizations recognize that an effective supply chain is essential to achieve savings and efficiencies, while supporting improved quality of care.

As the supply chain role becomes increasingly important across all hospital functions, supply chain professionals must adapt to effectively solve problems, lead change, and advance clinical and financial operations within their organization.

In addition to certifications and specialized degrees, certain hard and soft skills are needed to achieve healthcare supply chain excellence–now and in the future. Here are five important traits that will empower supply chain leaders to thrive in the evolving industry.

1. Business Person

The supply chain has expanded beyond the delivery of products and devices; today, the healthcare supply chain manages vast amounts of valuable data that can transform and support quality patient outcomes. Therefore, healthcare providers must view their supply chain holistically, like a business, encompassing both direct and indirect costs in the value chain to create sustainable results.

According to Repertoire Magazine, today, supply chain leaders hold enterprise responsibility for operations in non-traditional departments, such as the operating room, cardiac cath lab, clinical engineering and more. This shift requires a supply chain leader who can collaborate across a variety of service lines to support and build sustained bottom-line value.

In addition, a business mindset is becoming increasingly important for supply chain leaders as healthcare consumers are becoming more engaged in purchasing decisions, seeking greater convenience, value and support. Patients, too, are becoming more consumer-like in their roles as receivers of care, which leads them to look for high-quality, affordable healthcare.

"It’s essential for supply chain leaders to find innovative ways to manage costs and add value–for the organization and for the patients"

Lastly, supply chain leaders engage with stakeholders at the C-suite level to help drive revenue to the strategic direction behind driving revenue, increasing margins and improving patient outcomes. A business-minded, enterprise approach will help leaders thrive at the hospital C-suite table.

2. Innovator

It’s essential for supply chain leaders to find innovative ways to manage costs and add value–for the organization and for the patients.

First and foremost, leaders need to have technological expertise to identify how vast amounts of data can simplify processes, support improved patient safety, and remove excess inventory, waste and related costs, according to North Carolina State University’s “Skills for the New Era of Supply Chain Management”. As hospitals adopt new technologies to become more efficient, this skill helps supply chain leaders automate tracking and monitoring of supplies, and foster more informed decision-making.

While staying abreast of new advancements to help drive down the total cost of care, another facet of supply chain innovation is the ability to make the most of existing resources. Here, Lean philosophy can help organizations transition to outcomes-based care and ensure optimal efficiency. Lean thinking, which begins with driving out waste so that all work adds value and serves the customer’s needs, creates better flow across the supply chain, improves lead time and reduces variability. Supply chain leaders can use Lean principles to unlock value within hospital systems and consistently provide cost-effective, high-quality care.

3. Playmaker

To ensure improvements and innovations are long-lasting, supply chain leaders must be able to forecast market changes and react quickly. Doing so creates opportunities for the hospital system to continue to evolve and add value. Also mentioned in “Skills for the New Era of Supply Chain Management”, the ability to look ahead is one of the greatest strengths in an ever-changing supply chain environment where new trends, like e-commerce and new customer-supply relationships, are becoming the norm.

In the supply chain, playmakers who think boldly and expansively about the problems facing hospitals are a sought-after resource. The key to being a successful playmaker, though, hinges on effective collaboration. The responsibilities of the supply chain are expanding, and it’s critical for leaders to resist a siloed approach; leaders must collaborate across the extended supply chain with a common goal of improving patient outcomes.

4. Problem Solver

There is a growing focus on streamlining value-creation across the entire continuum of care, which forces supply chain leaders to navigate competing, and sometimes conflicting, initiatives and choose the best course of action. Therefore, hospitals and health systems are looking for supply chain leaders who don’t shy away from problems.

It is imperative to understand what is at the core of a problem versus focusing on the indications. Consider nurses and physicians who want more time with patients–supply chain leaders must work to understand and eliminate their pain points to ensure more time is spent on patient care, which ultimately facilitates higher quality of care at a lower cost.

In the hospital supply chain, the problem-solving process starts with data. Hospitals must leverage the supply chain as a gold mine for information to reduce costs, identify waste and streamline efficiencies throughout the entire health system network. According to GHX, with automated technology tools that address problems throughout the organization, supply chain leaders can determine the best prices and outcomes, and adapt manufacturing and buying processes to deliver real value.

5. Patient Advocate

As hospitals increasingly invest in delivering the best patient-centered care, the supply chain must become even more efficient to relive clinical staff from supply-related burdens. A care-centric approach to supply chain management seeks to mitigate this time and divert itto direct patient care.

When done right, a patient-centered supply chain helps providers spend less time on inventory and more time with patients. This can also facilitate reduction of errors, help standardize to the most appropriate set of products, and decrease costs–all of which can support high-quality patient care.

At the same time, patients’ changing needs and demands are having an impact on hospital supply chains. Supply chains influence the cost and quality of healthcare, so patient trends such as healthcare consumerism, the increasing prevalence of chronic disease and the diversification of care sites, all affect the supply chain.

According to HIT Consultant, industry trends, such as personalized medicine and healthcare consumerism, change how care is delivered and received, and will continue to challenge the healthcare supply chain. Hospitals are relying more and more on the supply chain to deliver value and insight, and these attributes are critically important for effective leadership.

Supply chain leaders who embrace these five overarching capabilities can step up as leaders in their organization and drive transformation.