The important work of group purchasing organizations has been the subject of several recent studies, including a new survey sponsored by the American Hospital Association and conducted by Lawton Robert Burns at the Wharton School. While I am heartened that Burns found that GPOs produce savings and “help hospitals with services beyond supply-chain management that include clinical improvement and value analysis,” I believe there is an additional piece of the GPO story that is critical: supply chain emergency response.
I often say that healthcare delivery has two major components, staff and “stuff.” Emergency situations shine a light on just how important stuff is, particularly when shipments of supplies that healthcare workers use every day get disrupted by weather, infrastructure issues, or product shortages. We are seeing the importance of healthcare supplies firsthand with planning and response related to the first Ebola cases in the U.S. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has become a central part of the media's Ebola coverage, particularly as the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for baseline protection have changed following the infection of two hospital caregivers.
When an emergency strikes, certain areas are always hit harder than others, and those first-responder hospitals experience increased demand for certain supplies, whether for PPE or generators, flashlights and food, as we saw in 2012 after Superstorm Sandy slammed the East Coast. Depending on the severity and duration of the emergency, affected communities and their healthcare providers may start to see shortages of necessary supplies, exacerbating the response challenge. During tough times, GPOs are at their best.
With emergencies like Katrina, Sandy and Ebola, GPOs rationalize supplies on a national scale. Given their regional relationships and national reach, GPOs can track resources around the country through manufacturer, distribution, and customer channels.
In the case of Ebola response, GNYHA Services, a unit of the Greater New York Hospital Association, established an Ebola supply command center. Through the command center, we can communicate with our members and our partners at Premier, daily, tracking supply issues and sourcing alternative product sources to anticipate future needs that may exceed our traditional distribution channel capacity. We also help our members find vital supplies.
Working with Premier and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we have created a crosswalk mapping the CDC's revised PPE recommendations to contracted vendors and specific products, providing members with a product resource in compliance with CDC guidelines. We've also established a network within our hospital membership that will facilitate transfer of necessary supplies to hospitals on the frontlines of an extended response.
To be clear, we are not unique; I am certain that our fellow healthcare GPOs are doing the same for their members across the country. GPOs support the healthcare supply chain, no matter what the circumstances.
Beyond the sourcing of suppliers, GPOs traditionally play an important role in educating members about the use and efficacy of supplies. Every day, GPOs review the value of products before adding them to contracting portfolios. GPOs create and share materials, explaining that value as part of a contract launch, creating information sessions, and hosting webinars to give members opportunities to learn about product offerings throughout the lifecycle of our contracts. This educational mission carries over into how GPOs support hospital and health-system members in emergencies. We have been carefully tracking the CDC guidelines, creating dedicated Web pages with resources related to donning and doffing PPE, waste removal, and supply availability. In New York, we, along with our partners at the Greater New York Hospital Association, the Service Employees International Union, and the Partnership for Quality Care, sponsored a nationally broadcast training session the appropriate use of PPE, which was carried live by Modern Healthcare. We also are conducting weekly supply-chain calls to update members on resource availability and protocols and have been calling relevant vendors to educate them about the role of the receiving hospitals within our membership.
As Ebola has shown, the value and support that GPOs bring to hospitals and healthcare providers across the country during natural disasters, disease outbreaks and other emergencies should not be underestimated.
Lee Perlman is president of GNYHA Ventures, the business arm of the Greater New York Hospital Association, and chairman-elect of the Healthcare Supply Chain Association.