For generations, providers and suppliers, and everyone in between, have used thousands of different numbers to track supplies. Healthcare trading partners don't electronically “talk” to each other in the same language, creating problems, including products arriving at the wrong location, rebates being processed incorrectly and countless hours spent tracking down where a product is and who has “touched” it. This lack of consistent customer identifiers (aka account numbers and “ship tos”) adds costs to an already burdened healthcare system, with obvious negative effects on the quality of care.
Recognizing the need for a consistent numbering system that clearly identifies critical linkages in the supply chain, Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa., participated in the Premier healthcare alliance's GLN transaction program. Geisinger is now successfully transacting orders using GLN as a result. GLN is a globally recognized identification number used to identify legal organizations, trading partners and customer locations in electronic commerce activities. Using the GLN to “name” delivery locations means all of my suppliers have the same account number for my hospital, ensuring that not only will the right products get sent to and arrive at the right place, but also invoicing and rebates will be more accurate as well.
We process more than 15 purchase orders a day with our main vendor, representing hundreds of products. With GLN as a “communication enabler,” together we are reaping benefits, including streamlined communications, more reliable product shipments and cleaner business documents. Through the program, we developed our GLN adoption approach, which we can now leverage with other suppliers.
While changing any business process can be daunting, the GLN transaction program showed that implementing GLN is completely doable within a reasonable timeframe. We started in August 2009, and by October had developed the process to use the GLN in every single order. While there can be challenges, GLN implementation is not rocket science—it only takes a commitment to a better way of doing things, open communications and support of your trading partners.
To prepare for GLN Sunrise, providers should take immediate steps:
Work with your group purchasing organization to cleanse your listings in the GLN Registry for Healthcare, a directory of U.S. healthcare facilities with corresponding GLNs (gs1.org/healthcare). The major GPOs have registered for GLNs on behalf of members, yet no one knows your hospital better than you. Geisinger currently has 625 GLNs at the “ship to” level—the point at which the supplier leaves their shipment, and we distribute the products within our own walls. As we get further along, we may assign GLNs to nurses' stations, bins and other internal delivery points for our own control purposes.
Take maintenance control of registry information. As hospitals open and close, and new affiliations are added, GLNs must be updated. Assign someone responsible for maintaining your registry information, since it serves as the single source of truth for location identification for your hospital. Once you have GLNs assigned at the highest level, you should establish the proper hierarchy of locations in the registry, including functional organizations and physical locations.
Communicate your GLN hierarchy with your GPO to ensure alignment of information.
Select supplier partners and begin transacting with the GLN.
Leverage existing resources, including educational programs from your GPO, GS1 Healthcare US industry work groups, and publications.
While some hospitals may be using materials software that cannot currently accommodate GLN in existing fields, or hospitals' have e-commerce exchange partners that have yet to develop mapping strategies, hospitals should do what it takes to make sure they are ready for when the GLN conversions happen. The GLN can be beneficial to a tiny 10-bed hospital and the largest integrated delivery network, to those that are fully automated and to those that are still using manual processes. Don't let anything or anyone stand in your way.
We were fortunate to have a supplier partner that shares our belief in a better way to do business. Not every supplier will be as supportive—do not take no for an answer. Although change may be uncomfortable, it is far worse to be left behind while the industry moves toward GLN adoption.
Healthcare has declared standards from GS1 as its choice for describing basic information to enable an efficient supply chain, and has thrown down the gauntlet with adoption dates of Dec. 31, 2010, for the GLN, and Dec. 31, 2012, for the Global Trade Item Number. Many other successful, large industries have been using these standards for years, and as such have realized significant efficiencies. With these data standards in place, the healthcare industry can finally lift off into a new, improved and safer supply chain.
Deborah Templeton is vice president of supply-chain services for Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.