From vendors that touted electronic cabinets that keep track of drug and medical device inventory to handheld inventory-tracking devices to a government-sponsored pilot program thats endeavoring to launch a global supply-chain inventory tracking system, data synchronization was the hot topic at this years Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management annual conference.
The conference, which took place at the San Diego Convention Center Aug. 12-15, drew nearly 200 exhibitors and a little more than 1,200 attendees. AHRMM spokeswoman Jennifer Jawor noted that attendance was up slightly from the conferences typical 1,100 to 1,150 participants. AHRMM is an affiliate of the American Hospital Association.
Data synchronization, or the lack thereof, has long been an issue in the healthcare industry. Youd be hard-pressed to find a clinician, healthcare administrator or public-health expert who wouldnt agree that the healthcare supply chain is far behind other industries in being able to track availability, location, purchasing information and use of specific products through each point in the supply chain.
Kathleen Garvin, program manager for the U.S. Defense Departments healthcare Data Synchronization Program and a board member of the Coalition for Healthcare eStandards, or CHeS, noted during a roundtable dinner at the conference last week that retailers large and small, from Wal-Mart to the neighborhood grocery store, have adopted global product-tracking systems that allow them to automate inventory and keep track of products as they travel from manufacturer to distributor to store shelves. Hospitals, however, still have no global method for tracking healthcare products and suppliesexcluding drugsacross the system.
Medical devices or supplies that enter the supply chain are likely to receive a different ID number or name at each point of handling. That means the manufacturer, distributor, group purchasing organization and hospital will each have a different method of identifying the exact same item, which can make for a good deal of confusion when trying to locate specific products. Advocates of a global healthcare tracking system have long believed synchronized identification of products across the supply chain would allow individual hospitals to track trends that could save millions of dollars on purchasing mistakes such as incorrect vendor contract pricing and duplicate product acquisitions, as well as time spent on inventory management. A CHeS report circulated at the AHRMM conference estimated that hospitals collectively lose between $2 billion and $5 billion each year from supply chain information errors.
At this years conference, however, another issue was also behind the push toward global data synchronization. A growing number of supply chain experts expressed concern over the vulnerability of the healthcare supply chain to safety problems and mismanagement during times of disaster or health emergencies.
Mike Brown, director of purchasing for the University Health Care System in Augusta, Ga., noted that the need for a nationwide system capable of tracking healthcare supplies has increased exponentially as hospitals have become more dependent on the global supply chain for products. China and other countries without tracking systems are creating huge issues for hospitals and supply chain safety, Brown said during the roundtable dinner sponsored by CHeS. He noted that his hospital had to spend a great deal of manpower tracking down and pulling every tube of toothpaste labeled Made in China during the recent recall of several brands manufactured by Chinese plants. The (Food and Drug Administration) has no (global) way to ID these products (and) we dont track lot numbers in our system, so we have no way to track recall items.
Because of such concerns, several vendors and government organizations have been participating since 2003 in a Defense Department pilot project called the Data Synchronization Program. The pilot has enlisted hospitals, GPOs, medical software vendors, suppliers and not-for-profit supply chain organizations in testing the efficiency of global data synchronization. In phase 1 of the pilot, providers Baptist Health South Florida, Coral Gables, the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., University Health Care System; the healthcare management software company Lawson; GPO Premier; and suppliers Sage Products and Becton, Dickinson & Co., among other participants, all submitted their various descriptions for the same list of products to the Defense Department.
The feds then synchronized those descriptions for use by all participants. Phase 2 of the pilot, which began in January, is testing whether the Global Data Synchronization Network, a not-for-profit group that currently serves as a constantly updated source for information on products in the retail supply chain, could serve as an efficient central source for data on products in the healthcare supply chain.
The reason for (implementing) this system goes back to patient safety and the ability of hospitals to understand what products they have in their inventory, says Rebecca Oles, a member of the CHeS Public Relations Committee. With a consumer product, you can look at the lot number and know if you have a product thats been recalled. You cant do that right now in healthcare with syringes and other medical supplies. So, this is an attempt to fix the problem at the foundation.