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3 ways to optimize your pharmaceutical supply chain for surgery centers

Busy surgery centers face increasing pressure to fix pharmaceutical supply issues. Product shortages in specialty drugs and generics, combined with supply chain issues, are taking their toll, creating staffing and case-scheduling issues.

The solution lies in better internal analysis, stronger supply chain communication and a well-planned approach to procurement. These approaches can drive cost savings and better patient outcomes.

Supply costs are the second biggest budget line in ambulatory care1; yet, according to a survey by Sage Growth Partners, 62% of hospitals said they needed more protections against supply chain disruptions.2 Unfortunately, not all have the in-house expertise to develop them alone.

Larger surgery centers might have their own dedicated staff for procuring pharmaceuticals, but in other cases it's an additional job someone not trained in supply chain management takes on.

"It's often assigned to one of the surgical nurses on staff," explains Kelly Williby, vice president of surgery centers at McKesson Medical-Surgical.

Overtaxed staff often leave their jobs under the strain. The Sage survey found 43% of hospitals lose nurses specifically due to supply chain issues.

How supply chain issues challenge surgery centers

Managing the pharmaceutical supply chain isn't easy, explains Trevor Keeler, director of pharmaceutical sales at McKesson Medical-Surgical, since a surgery center's demand for different drugs fluctuates over time.

"Understanding item-level usage fluctuations by season is critical in a surgery center environment, as they often experience greater case surges throughout the year compared to other specialties," he warns.

These critical surgical center team members have faced even more problems since the onset of the pandemic. Product shortages and backorders have always been an issue for surgical centers, but the COVID-19 crisis made the problem worse. Williby says it has taken months to resolve backlogs on some of the drugs in short supply.

A lack of clarity around drug availability leaves surgical centers unable to reschedule cases, leading to cancellations that affect patient outcomes and escalate costs, she says.

Related article:
Pharmaceutical sourcing: How to manage drug shortages & backorders >

Gaining control of your pharmaceutical supply chain

There are steps that surgery centers can take to optimize their pharmaceutical purchasing, even during volatile times:

1 | Track your workload

Supply chain optimization begins by looking inside the facility, with better internal intelligence in the surgical center. Optimizing visibility into your caseload can help with procurement planning, says Keeler.

"Understand seasonal caseload changes is key to properly preparing for busy times, " he advises. "Also, review current caseloads and future cases on a weekly basis to prepare yourself for any changes that will inevitably occur in the short term," he adds. It's also important to utilize business intelligence tools, such as data analytics, to understand seasonal usage fluctuations with certain products.

2 | Better communication with distributors

A surgery center armed with a better understanding of caseloads and drug requirements can work more closely with its distributor. A good distributor is more than just a company with which to conduct transactions; it's also a partner with deep insights into product availability that can help a surgery center with supply chain planning.

"Today's world-class distributors should have an analytics dashboard to help customers anticipate what's coming down the pike and make sure that they're ordering as efficiently as possible," says Steve Dunn, senior marketing manager for surgery centers at McKesson Medical-Surgical.

The best distribution partners can even codify surgical caseloads directly in software, helping them to plan that customer's future supplies and identify issues early. Talk to your distributor about making them aware of your surgery center's preference cards.

The distributor can combine end-to-end intelligence and planning and market intelligence about supply fluctuations and relay appropriate information quickly to the surgery center. These alerts can include ideas for product substitutions, helping clinicians to plan a solution to the shortage.

3 | Refine your purchasing strategy

The third success factor for surgery centers is building a mature purchasing process.

"This should include a strategy to address product shortages on common or high-usage items such as creating a list of preapproved alternative items," says Keeler.

Common mistakes that surgery centers make include unnecessary stockpiling driven by uncertainty about product availability and local need. That often wastes drugs and drives up costs.

Working closely with a distributor replaces that practice with more precise procurement practices. It also helps to choose a distributor that offers low unit of measure (LUM) shipments for easier processing on the surgery side.

Surgery centers often also buy a large portfolio of products, increasing their array of suppliers. That makes it more difficult to track orders and take deliveries. Instead, consolidate orders with larger distributors who can handle more products in one order — spanning both pharmaceutical and clinical supplies.

"While supply chain can be complex and time-consuming, it doesn't need to be," says Keeler. "Putting the work in up front to create a detailed purchasing plan with clear alternatives when things change will make the process easier for everyone involved and ultimately improve patient care."

The more in sync the supply chain is, the more resilient surgery centers are likely to be in the face of product shortages and backorders.

Working with a distributor well-versed in pharmaceutical supply can help to plan for every eventuality, keeping both patient outcomes and operating costs where they should be.


© 2022 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.