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Physicians Can Improve Your Supply Chain: 3 Reasons

By Christopher Cheney  
   November 12, 2018

Physician champions can help health systems and hospitals overcome challenges associated with changing supply items.

Changing devices, implants, and other products is challenging to hospital supply chain functions—often causing resistance from clinicians wedded to existing supply items.

That is why health systems and hospitals can drive change and value in their supply chains with the help of physician champions. And one system is doing just that.

Kettering Health Network is tapping the clinical expertise of physicians to tackle these predicaments. Trisha Gillum, director of supply chain management at the Dayton, Ohio­­­–based health system, says physicians can play diverse roles in supply chain.

"It can be as small as a physician champion on a single project, to being a physician champion for a service line, to being on the payroll for supply chain," she says.

Here are three reasons to enlist physician champions to improve your supply chain.

1. Physician champions actively engage in supply chain projects

Gillum says the best physician champions for medical supply changes are personally engaged in the effort. "They are willing to understand both the financial and the clinical nuances to a project. They are also willing to speak with their peers—to be a cheerleader or champion for a project."

When Kettering identifies engaged and respected physicians who are interested in serving in the champion role, the doctors receive training from The Advisory Board Company. Physician champion programs at this Washington, D.C.–based consultancy range from individual sessions to a physician leadership track that has sessions held over several months.

Two primary elements of the education programs are business instruction and learning about the nuances of the changing healthcare industry.

"Many physicians are not in tune with everything that is going on in the hospital environment," Gillum says. "They don't understand when we say we need to save money. So, there is education about financial pressures and clinical pressures."

Another educational goal is giving physicians leadership skills, she says.

"We are asking them to step out of their traditional roles and communicate with their peers at an advocacy level. To do that, we not only need to provide the data to support product conversations, but also give them the tools necessary to have those conversations."

2. Physician champions contribute valuable input into supply choices

Physician champions play a potentially decisive role in proposed supply changes, Gillum says.

"If you really want a physician to get engaged, they will bring their own mindset about what the answers should be. You cannot expect a physician to come onboard and rubberstamp the process," she says.

Supply chain managers and other leaders should be open to opposing views from physician champions, she says. "They are going to want to engage in the process. They are going to want to modify it. So, you may end up in an entirely different place than you expected."

When physician champions object to proposed supply changes, open communication is essential, Gillum says.

"You have to be transparent. You can't ask a physician to own something like a cost-savings initiative unless you are willing to say how much we are going to make on a procedure. You have to be willing to share all of the data and to give physician champions all the facts to make intelligent decisions," she says.

Supply chain managers should treat physician champions as valued teammates, Gillum says. "You have to realize that you have asked physicians to play a supply chain role and to provide information. If you disregard what they are saying, you are going to lose partners."

The best-case scenario for physician champions is when they take ownership of a supply change project, she says.

"I had a physician who went out and talked with every one of his peers who performed a particular procedure. He convinced every one of them that we needed to make a change. He was able to accomplish more in those conversations than I could have accomplished in months of conversations with the same group of physicians," she says.

3. Physician-champions help decide supply changes that impact patients

Health systems and hospitals benefit from physician champion participation in supply chain, and the clinicians benefit as well.

Gillum says the two primary benefits for clinicians who assume physician champion roles are gaining experience that helps them compete for hospital administration jobs and helping to decide supply changes that could impact their patients.

"I had one physician say he was passionate about the supplies he used on his patients. The best way physicians can control the supplies that they get is to be part of the conversation and part of the decision," she says.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


Supply chain managers enlist physician champions to assess the value of supply-item changes and to win over skeptical clinicians.

Physician champions have independent views and should not be expected to rubberstamp projects.

Serving as a physician champion has benefits for clinicians, including preparation to serve in administrative roles.

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