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Empty store shelves, longer lead times and higher prices ─ this is the reality the world is facing when it comes to the global supply chain post COVID-19. Supply chain disruptions spiked 67 percent in 2020, with the pandemic having a dramatic impact across every industry, including healthcare.
A wide spectrum of supply chain disruptions emerged over the last 19 months, from raw materials, labor and manufacturing, to shipping, transportation, warehousing, distribution, and “last-mile” delivery. Today, we’re still experiencing a broad array of global, macro-level issues that, layered together, create bottlenecks in a system not designed for such demands.
In helping tackle these challenges, we must first diagnose the root causes and understand the full picture.
First, here’s a run-down on the current state of global supply disruptions:
Premier’s supply chain experts remain acutely aware of each of these existing challenges as well as new and emerging issues. While these converging issues impact consumer goods across the globe, the healthcare supply chain also feels the effects.
Demand for Products is Through the Roof
As a result of the massive demand surge for goods in America, offshore manufacturers have been under pressure to produce products at a faster rate. With a return to normal operations post lockdowns, there are now more goods in containers coming to the U.S. from Asia than there are empty containers returning for refill.
This is ultimately contributing to a wide imbalance within the seaport shipping and receiving ecosystem. As a result, there are more items imported into the U.S. than can be unloaded and distributed across the supply chain distribution network.
Understanding Port Congestion Challenges
Shipping via air can easily cost 10X as much as shipping via sea and there is significantly less space. As such, the majority of U.S.-imported goods arrive in forty-foot equivalent units (FEU’s, or containers), which are loaded on cargo vessels with anywhere between 9,000 and 14,000 FEUs each. Once cargo vessels arrive, they dock at one of the U.S. ports that can accommodate ships of that size, such as Los Angeles, Long Beach, Savannah, Charleston and NY-NJ.
In addition to the record volumes of imports coming from Asia, there are several other contributing factors to ongoing port congestion:
Impact on the Healthcare Supply Chain
Alongside commodity goods for the entire economy, healthcare supplies are also included in imported containers, though it’s difficult to assess the exact quantities and types without visibility into detailed shipping data.
Globally, medical device manufacturing and distribution are treated as critical, meaning these goods are prioritized so that the production of and flow to the U.S. can continue as uninterrupted as possible. However, we’re seeing current challenges play out our own ports, where once the containers arrive, they’re in the same queue as other goods coming in, regardless of type.
Container loading and offloading are also very deliberate. Goods are first loaded onto vessels based on their destination ports, and then also by weight distribution. Because this is a commodity service, there is no prioritization of what types of goods are offloaded first, and no ability to pay a premium cost to deliver certain types of goods over others.
What We Can Do
Providers should consider ordering early and rethinking inventory management strategies as product lead times – the timeline between placing an order and receiving it – have increased significantly. Via the Journal of Online Commerce (JOC), average lead times for consumer goods routed from Shanghai to Los Angeles and on to Chicago have increased from 30-35 days to 80+ days as of late.
In addition, and alongside the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), health systems should maintain judicious PPE conservation and stockpiling strategies to help keep supply levels maintained until after port congestion challenges begin to ease in 2022.
At Premier, we’re continuously assessing medical categories that:
We’re also continuing to analyze products concentrated with one or two suppliers or concentrated in a certain geographic location. Examples of these categories:
Premier is also paying close attention to pricing increases. The Freightos Baltic Index reported that in September, container shipping costs from Asia to the U.S. West Coast were up more than $20,000 per FEU ─ a 499% increase from the same time in 2020.
Premier remains steadfast in our commitment and partnership with members to improve supply chain resiliency and help mitigate disruptions:
Even as COVID-19 exposed supply chain flaws and transformed the healthcare landscape, together we continue to show up and level up to address the biggest challenges as a result of the pandemic and drive healthcare innovation for the future.
Premier continues to rally together with our members to ensure access to the supplies, data, analytics and intelligence needed to survive and thrive in a challenging environment.
We’re here with you every step of the way.