What is supply optimization and why is it important to healthcare? If we are to consider supply optimization as the application of processes and tools to ensure the optimal use of said supply, in terms of healthcare, this means offering our patients the most optimal care we can in the most affordable and accessible way.
We continue to delve into cost containment leading us to determine how our consumers will afford their care and our focus is shifting to medical supplies, including pharmaceuticals. To date, the primary areas of cost containment revolves around contracting for a lower unit price which is frequently associated with a limitation of choice for our patients.
However, other factors play into supply optimization. One such area is unused and wasted items, especially in the surgical domain. For example, a survey of 58 neurosurgical procedures, found that on average, 13% of surgical supplies went unused, and, thus, were discarded. Although much easier to use, disposable supply custom packs frequently lead to waste. Admittedly, which materials are required for each case are not always evident before surgery, which can lead to waste. However, it is worth taking a deeper look at the usage of the items (i.e., the custom pack) because understanding the percentage of usage may lead to a significant waste reduction.
Another major area of supply waste is in pharmaceuticals, especially vial excess. Undoubtedly, reusing vials increases contamination, and using multiple smaller dosing vials increases cost, but if we seek to look at the actual usage by procedure and package it based on the results, we will create opportunities to save waste. Implementing these cost-saving procedures will require better coordination on all fronts, from the manufacturers to the clinicians and all the way to the end-users.
Expiration dates are an additional area that requires attention. These labels may be arbitrary. Once again, a more in-depth understanding could lead to significant optimization of such supplies. This will require manufacturers to examine the true expiration of medications and provide education to end users.
A concerted effort is required to influence supply optimization and it is worth it. Any dollar saved can be reinvested in care, reduce price points, and have a positive effect on affordability. We will need to address the physician’s social factors, financing systems, organizational structures, and processes, along with aligning incentives. Let us look under every rock to improve our ability to deliver higher value to those we serve. Only by working with all the components of the health care ecosystem in unison, with one voice, will we be able to impact what the market is asking, making health care more affordable.