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Physicians Forge Strong Links in Supply Chain

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   June 27, 2018

In a clinically integrated supply chain, physicians play formal and informal roles in decision-making for changes in supplies, devices, and equipment.

Supply chains generate high value for health systems and hospitals when physicians are engaged at key points in decision-making.

Physicians have become a crucial element of supply chain success, says Frank Eischens, RN, director of supply chain, University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Iowa City.

"A supply chain needs to be built on a foundation of data analytics, point-of-use management and strategic contracting, but those three things do not do anything by themselves. You need relationships with clinicians in a way that allows them to see the outcome of their choices," he says.

In May, Eischens and three other panelists participated in a HealthLeaders Media Executive Roundtable event in Nashville. Vizient sponsored the panel discussion, "Optimizing Clinically Integrated Supply Chain."

Medical director role

At Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, the health system has placed physicians in a senior supply chain role, says Allen Passerallo, MBA, senior director of supply chain management.

"We have medical directors that are part of our supply chain department. So, we align with our medical operations division, and they help fund the medical directors to be a part of our department. That gives us credibility with the physicians throughout the enterprise," he says.

Cleveland Clinic has four medical directors working in supply chain—two orthopedists, a general surgeon, and an anesthesiologist.

The supply chain medical directors benefit the health system with their knowledge and influence among their medical peers, and they benefit from deepening their professional experience, Passerallo says.

"Another form of engagement is acknowledgment and credit. One of our supply chain medical directors just became vice chair of surgical operations. Another one just became chairman of vascular surgery. Being a medical director in supply chain is a stepping stone."

Advocate for change

Other health systems have a less formal supply chain role for physicians.

"We do not have medical directors in supply chain, but we take a very similar approach. Working with our service line leaders and executives at each of our facilities, we identify physician champions," says Trisha Gillum, MBA, director of supply chain management at Kettering Health Network in Dayton, Ohio.

At Kettering, the physician champions help advocate for supply chain changes, she says.

"We usually spend time sitting down with them reviewing data, reviewing the value proposition both from a research basis as well as the financial contract offering. Then we look to those physician champions to help with the communication as we reach out across the various facilities and physician meetings."

Physician engagement

Trust is the key to engaging physicians in supply chain decision-making, Gillum says.

"We can't underestimate the trust factor. Physicians need to have a full seat at the table, you have to earn their trust, and they have to trust the data you are using," she says.

Giving physicians formal roles in supply chain decision-making is an effective engagement strategy, says Martin Lucenti, MD, PhD, senior principal at Vizient Advisory Solutions.

"The best way to engage the clinicians is to put them in charge. Make it their responsibility. It is always incredibly painful for the supply chain to try to take out $20 million in costs while coercing a group of doctors. Give the doctors $20 million of cost reductions, and they will figure out a way to take that out without consequence to their patients," he says.

Convincing physicians to support supply chain changes requires focusing on the clinical impacts, Passerallo and Gillum say.

"You try to put change in physicians' words, so they understand it more. If you put a business side to it, they immediately push back," Passerallo says.

"Some of the trust you can gain is by leading with the quality, the outcomes, the elimination of variability, and creating standardization," Gillum says.

"Other industries have shown that if you can eliminate variation you can improve quality. As opposed to leading with a financial case, you can show that you are considering other interests as well. Your end goal may be reduction of costs, but that can't be what you are leading with," she says.

View the complete HealthLeaders Media Roundtable report: Optimizing Clinically Integrated Supply Chain.

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

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