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Four Trends Guiding Healthcare Supply Chain Workforce Management


Key takeaways:

  • There is significant demand – and a shortage of talent – for healthcare supply chain professionals at all levels.
  • Hospitals and health systems require innovative solutions to fill today’s labor gap and enable the next generation of the supply chain workforce.
  • Through work redesign initiatives, technology to optimize labor and a trusted workforce enhancement partner, organizations can support healthy operations, a healthy bottom line and more engaged employees.

The U.S. continues to face a shortage of healthcare workers across the care continuum, a reality that rages on even as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

A vital component of the larger ecosystem, the healthcare supply chain is not immune to this challenge, where demand for talent is increasing alongside labor shortages that continue to persist.

Like other areas of a hospital, the pandemic excised its toll on critical supply chain staff. Nearly 60 percent of global leaders are seeing higher-than-normal turnover among their supply chain employees – from front-line distribution to inventory management to sourcing and contracting.

Changing skill requirements is another factor driving the labor shortage. More than half of organizations say they’re “lacking employees with advanced digital and analytical skills” ─ critical competencies in today’s supply chain roles.

Alongside ongoing inflation, product shortages and margin pressures, the short supply and higher cost of qualified labor requires supply chain teams to think outside the box – seeking out staffing solutions that support healthy operations, a healthy bottom line and more engaged employees.

We spoke to leaders from Nexera about four key trends guiding the future of the healthcare supply chain workforce as well as what success looks like for scalable outsourcing support.

Nexera, a consolidated subsidiary of Premier, is a leading healthcare consulting firm that serves hospitals and health systems by advancing supply chain improvement and transformation.

1 - Make the Supply Chain a Strategic Investment

Heightened globalization, complexity and advancement through digitization has evolved supply chain management into a non-linear, more interconnected function that must be increasingly responsive and adaptive to change.

When the supply chain runs well, it’s largely invisible. When it breaks down, it can result in patient care delays, negative impacts on quality care and outcomes, added expenses and a high-stress work environment. Pandemic-driven supply chain issues provide an extreme case in point.

Demand for supply chain talent is at an all-time high as hospitals recognize the importance of the supply chain for their success. From a financial perspective to clinical integration and patient outcomes – it’s vital to the daily operations across every department.

Studies show that high-performing supply chain teams achieve revenue growth well above the industry average and substantial cost-reduction opportunities across their organization.

But without talent, you can’t reach a high-performing supply chain.

Hospital purchasing leaders recognize this disconnect – nearly 40 percent say that staffing is an investment priority in 2023 and beyond.

2 - Redesign How Work is Done

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many common, pre-existing challenges that healthcare supply chain teams face, including navigating backorders and shortages, optimizing inventory management and strategic sourcing to help ensure the best possible pricing and outcomes.

There is a significant need for hospitals to rethink how their supply chains operate.

Weighing internal core competencies against outsourcing opportunities is also critical to efficient operations. Today, the number of hospitals and health systems leveraging workforce enhancement support is growing, and for good reason: value at scale.

With flexible workforce enhancement, third-party subject matter experts join forces with a hospital’s internal team to help fill staff vacancies and gap areas as well as support overall goals, continuous improvement and growth.

From strategy and operational excellence support to tactical execution, shorter or long-term engagements can focus on supply chain fundamentals like increasing efficiency and managing costs, as well as broader redesign and value creation opportunities in digitization, sustainability and transformation.

For one health system, Nexera staff assumed operating room (OR) materials management, and within the first year, identified an estimated $1 million in savings. The team worked to eliminate expired inventory, physically reorganize the department to enhance workflow, and improve operational efficiency to better support the OR.

3 - Leverage Technology to Optimize Labor

A corollary to the labor problem, 2023 is a year of automating traditionally manual processes to tackle inefficiencies and waste – and to improve employee productivity and satisfaction.

The supply chain is on the cutting edge of technological advancements to meet the changing demands of the industry, with nearly 80 percent of supply chain leaders saying they’ve accelerated digital transformation efforts to make their operations more responsive and forward-looking.

But for many healthcare organizations exploring solutions – some common questions include: “where do I start” and “how can I ensure fit to purpose?”

Outsourced workforce enhancement resources can help maximize the appropriate technology, tools and actionable data that can serve as supply chain labor extenders, driving efficiencies and savings, and freeing up internal staff for more value-add work. Backed by supply chain expertise specific to healthcare, experts can help a hospital’s team pinpoint needs and leverage technology for greatest value – regardless of where an organization may be in its digitization journey.

With supply chain teams asked to do more with less, innovative solutions are allowing teams to mitigate product shortage risks, optimize healthcare purchasing, streamline workflows and enable significant cost reduction.

Overall, hospitals should look to prioritize supply chain technology solutions that leverage AI and demand forecasting tools, as well as real-time insights into inventory, cost variances and supply standardization. They should also seek out tools that integrate with the hospital’s own enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to help improve margins while reducing the risk of errors.

One key area ripe for advancement is accounts payable (AP) automation where time-intensive, paper-based and error-prone processes have bogged down the supply chain – and healthcare finance – for far too long. As one of the best tools to help drive savings and labor efficiency, AP automation technology can be deployed at any time, but if an ERP system upgrade or transformation is planned, providers should consider implementing them together.

4 - Look for a True Partner that Delivers Value at Scale

Workforce enhancement support can help drive speed-to-value on the biggest-impact opportunities for a hospital or health system – and help to lessen the burden on many stretched and already stressed teams.

But a healthcare organization should look beyond a traditional consulting firm to seek an expert partner that will work as a true extension of their team. A partner should be able to plug and play, delivering services, solutions and value to meet an organization’s unique makeup and needs.

From strategic-level initiatives to supporting day-to-day blocking and tackling, engagements underpinned by a strong, focused project management style approach and with opportunities funneled to the appropriate experts will see greatest success.

With more than 125 subject matter experts across strategy, contracting/sourcing, inventory management, value analysis, technology and analytics, and more, Nexera’s partnership model delivers actionable and sustainable solutions beyond a consulting engagement to help its clients implement meaningful long-term change.

In many instances, a hospital could surely solve some of its challenges on their own, like securing personal protective equipment (PPE) or maximizing/implementing technology – or they could find a generalist consultant to support.

But what we've seen is how much better off a hospital could be leveraging the scale and specific healthcare supply chain expertise to enable services and solutions more economically.

Alongside growing investments in a high-performing supply chain, the best way to maximize those investments is to leverage scale and true expertise.

As transformation of the industry continues, there is significant demand – and a shortage of talent – for healthcare supply chain professionals at all levels, from entry-level to executives.

According to a 2022 Premier member survey of hospital CEOs, 78 percent of respondents cited workforce resources as their top concern.

With end-to-end supply chain solutions and services, Nexera provides a customized, scalable approach to engaging with hospitals and health systems – meeting organizations where they are to support their needs, goals and budgets.

Backed by the PINC AI™ platform and Premier’s industry-leading supply chain services, Nexera’s proven clinical and financial outcomes and successes align with those of its partners. Today, we serve hospitals and health systems that represent more than $20 billion in net patient revenue, and our team is embedded with more than 30+ hospitals and health systems – and growing – in side-by-side engagements.

Hospitals and health systems require creative and meaningful solutions to fill today’s labor gap and enable the next generation of the supply chain workforce. The supply chain workforce of the future is knocking on our door – and we’re answering the call.

For More:

  • See how Kaleida Health built a clinically integrated supply chain and explore transformational objectives for your own organization.
  • Check out learnings from the Nexera team who served on the frontlines of COVID-19 in New York.
  • Learn more about Nexera’s end-to-end supply chain services.
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