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How Suppliers Can Fix Poor Supply Chain Communication

December 19, 2023

Article written by Guillermo Ramas

and first published in Medical Product Outsourcing Magazine.

Attention, medical suppliers: Healthcare providers and regulators are asking you to step up your recall and supply-chain-disruption game. That’s going to mean some changes, whether undertaken proactively or in the name of compliance. But here’s the good news: It’s going to save you tremendously — both on resources and headaches — over the long term.

While technology has smoothed out many aspects of human life in recent decades, the paper- and broadcast-based system used by most suppliers for recalls has somehow grown worse.

The year 2021 saw 600 million medical products affected by recalls — 29 percent more than the previous year. Not every hospital realized it was using, and sometimes installing, faulty devices in patients.

Moreover, as the pandemic made clear, the supply-chain problem extends well beyond recalls. Let’s talk about what a better system would look like — and why it will be a boon for providers, patients, and suppliers alike.

Current Shortfalls in Supply-Chain-Disruption Communications

Inefficient recall notifications harm patients. They also raise costs for hospitals, which lose time and money figuring out which devices are OK and which must be returned.

Currently, when a supplier realizes that it needs to issue a recall, it sends a paper notice to each location that received the affected product. That often means multiple inboxes at the same hospital receive similar notices. The supplier then waits for each location to reply — also on paper — confirming receipt, and indicating that they have removed the faulty products.

This might work out all right, albeit slowly, except that many hospitals subscribe to recall broadcasters. Such broadcasters notify all subscribers about every recall, without regard to whether a provider is affected or not. Many of the hospitals that receive the broadcast feel obligated to send a written reply, indicating that they’re aware of the recall — even though their response is neither expected nor needed, because the recall never affected those particular hospitals in the first place.

Sometimes, confused by the details, a hospital will return perfectly good products and expect credit for the return. Some providers, unaware that the recall had never applied to them, become upset with the supplier for not directly notifying them about it — leading to further unnecessary communication, frustration, and more time and money wasted.

Does that sound familiar? Under the current system, suppliers wind up with unnecessary returns, inappropriate demands for replacements, unhappy providers, and oceans of inaccurate correspondence.

A Path to Efficiency and Clarity in Supply-Chain Communications

The inefficiencies described above can cause urgent recall processes to take months. We’ve seen it take as long as two years. Meanwhile, what happens to the patients? Healthcare teams continue to treat patients with devices that have been recalled — meaning people who are already unwell receive further injury.

No one wants this — not providers, not suppliers, and certainly not patients.

Here’s what suppliers should demand when it comes to a better system:

Current inefficiencies cost suppliers and providers money, yes — but they can also cost patients their quality of life (and sometimes their lives themselves). That’s why regulators are paying closer attention to the status quo, and wondering what can be done. At the same time, a growing number of providers are beginning to insist that their supply partners do better.

Ultimately, the healthcare industry — whether via regulation or provider pressure — is going to demand a better system. The good news for suppliers is that they stand to benefit greatly from an enhanced digital notification system, in the form of faster communications and recall resolutions, improved accuracy of messaging, reduced confusion and needless returns, and overall stronger customer relationships.

Those that move to implement such supply-chain-disruption communications measures now, before marketplace pressures demand it, will wield a significant competitive advantage within their respective spaces. Are you ready to take the lead?

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