Suppliers and providers in the physician market have learned much about pandemic-era logistics since March 2020. But many challenges remain, and the learning will continue.
“The situation for physician practices has improved compared to the massive demand spikes that characterized 2020,” says Cynthia Radford, senior vice president, alternate site programs, Premier Inc. “Alongside PPE conservation measures, ongoing stockpiling efforts and a greater visibility into inventory, providers today are better equipped – but the supply chain remains fragile.”
Access and pedigree
Throughout the pandemic, Premier worked closely with its members, including those who operate physician practices, to understand and address their supply chain challenges, she says. “Via direct interaction and numerous member surveys, we uncovered two main issues these providers have been facing with regard to PPE: access to product, and product pedigree.
“On product access, many organizations reported major challenges due to allocation. Since many physician practices and other alternate site providers do not have an extensive history of ordering PPE, their access to product through traditional channels has been limited.” In a survey conducted late last year, most (61%) alternate site providers reported not having their PPE needs met by their traditional med/surg distributors, down from 83% in June 2020.
Premier surveys also found that a significant number of non-acute providers were turning to PPE sources such as online retailers (77%), nontraditional distributors (56%) and retail stores (44%). “In many cases, providers had to contend with uncertain sourcing and the possibility of gray market items – heightening their concerns about product quality and pedigree.”
Premier took several steps to address such challenges, says Radford, including:
- Implementing a process to bring new suppliers to contract in 14 days or fewer for categories with product allocation or shortages, and signing more than 100 new contracts with manufacturers and evaluating supplies from more than 2,500 brokers.
- Working with traditional and nontraditional distributors to make PPE available to physician practices. “Trusted distributors in categories such as office supplies have been able to fill gaps in PPE access,” she says. “And we’ve negotiated supplemental sourcing programs with traditional med/surg distributors in which they can provide and store PPE for non-acute providers.”
- Implementing an expedited process to vet gray market suppliers, determining fewer than 10% were legitimate and alerting authorities to hundreds of fraudulent sellers.
- Working directly with new and untapped manufacturers around the globe. “For alternate site suppliers, Premier engaged in a forward buy specifically for this market and created a channel for product where it didn’t exist, delivering over 2 million masks, face shields and gowns.”
In addition, Premier’s e-commerce marketplace – stockd® – “closed a critical gap in the traditional med/surg supply chain and serves as a trusted, 24/7 resource to access vital PPE,” she says. (Launched in October 2019, stockd is available to any physician or physician practice – not just Premier members.) “Despite the supply chain shockwaves, product pricing on stockd avoided large spikes. The online platform is seeing significant growth, with visitors up three times, sales up 29 times, and the monthly number of orders up six times since March 2020, as compared to the pre-pandemic baseline.”