Breaking Barriers and Building Support for a Clinically Integrated Supply Chain 

By Dan Hermes, Director, Advisory Services, Lumere, a GHX company 

While healthcare was already operating with razor thin margins before the pandemic, organizations continue to face mounting financial challenges due to rising costs, declining reimbursements, employee burnout and labor shortages. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that we cannot face these challenges – and more importantly, address them – by working independently. As the proverb says, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This concept perfectly encapsulates the process needed to effectively implement a clinically integrated supply chain (CISC). 

A CISC is in essence a simple concept: marrying clinical, financial and operational data together to improve the quality of care and lower the cost to deliver it. While the operational, clinical and financial value a CISC can bring to an organization is significant, it also requires teamwork and cross-departmental collaboration to achieve. The task may seem daunting, but building a CISC doesn’t need to happen overnight. You just need to get started. 

As with any new project or initiative, garnering support and buy-in for a CISC comes with challenges. In a recent webinar hosted by Lumere, we asked our audience of supply chain professionals about their biggest barriers to enacting CISCs. Responses centered on two main issues: lack of access to clinical data and evidence and a lack of leadership and physician support. 

Unlocking the Potential of Data and Evidence  

Many healthcare organizations struggle to obtain data and clinical evidence on products due to the limited visibility into what they’re spending, where there is unwarranted variation in device use and how products affect outcomes. This is due, in part, to the siloed technology environment in which healthcare works. Supply chain professionals operate mainly in an organization’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system while clinical teams spend their time in the electronic health record (EHR) system. Without visibility across these systems, it makes it virtually impossible for supply chain leaders to collaborate with physicians to help affect change in their product selection and utilization habits based on product cost and efficacy.

To overcome this, organizations should invest in solutions that integrate this disparate, siloed data into one system that is clean, accurate, concise and easy for key stakeholders to access and interpret. This will help organizations better identify variation among device selection and analyze the cost of medical devices for a given procedure, down to the individual physician and case level, among other benefits. Armed with this trusted cross-system data, a CISC team can more easily make evidence-based decisions that balance the cost and quality of care delivered. 

Using Data to Create Clinician Champions 

Having data and clinical evidence at your disposal also plays a key role in garnering support from physicians and other clinicians. Many physicians are accustomed to turning to products they’ve used for years. Using data and clinical evidence can open a dialogue with a physician about patient outcomes and costs associated with a given product or device and introduce them to alternate options that provide the same, or better, outcomes at a better price point. Telling this story through data, and showing the progression and overall value of the cost/quality initiatives associated with using a particular product or device, not only helps curb unnecessary and costly variation but helps identify the right physicians to engage in change management initiatives.

Some other things to consider when approaching physicians and clinicians about supporting your CISC goals:

  • Be respectful of the knowledge they hold and involve them in the decision-making process 
  • Speak to them with candor – they want to drive down healthcare costs and support outcomes just as much as anyone else in the hospital 
  • Highlight individual and team achievements, report on wins early and often and continually acknowledge those who helped you get there 

Gaining Support Through a Shared Vision 

With the myriad challenges facing hospital leaders, approaching the C-Suite or other senior executives with a new idea that requires an investment in resources and stakeholder time may be intimidating. Appealing to the objectives that matter most to them, like the financial incentives a CISC can bring about, is a great way to start those conversations. Leveraging data to tell a more concrete story about the opportunities that exist within your organization to reduce costs while improving outcomes is key. Show the value the program will bring by letting the data speak for itself. 

It’s also important to remember that starting small and being comfortable with incremental advances is a fine approach. As one knowledgeable hospital leader once said to me, “You don’t need to attempt to eat the elephant in one bite.” A collection of small victories can be worth just as much as a single big one. And in some cases, those small changes may mean even more, as they are an indicator of positive, sustainable change.  

The collaborative work style that is needed to build a successful CISC can also support organizations in their quest to create a more engaged workforce and desirable place to work. When employees work in concert with others to achieve a common goal and feel like they have the opportunity to influence decisions, they are more likely to feel valued in their role. In a recent survey conducted by Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX), senior healthcare leaders in the U.S. expressed that staff burnout and labor shortages are their primary workforce concern. Initiatives that allow your organization to increase employee engagement and satisfaction, and that are sustainable over time, are necessary in the eyes of leadership today. 

With labor and supply expenses increasing and operating margins decreasing, building a culture of collaboration and momentum around achieving financial viability is important. Next to delivering the highest quality of care to patients, this has become the main priority for many hospital leaders. When an organization sets out to build a CISC, it inherently fosters an environment where collaboration is embraced, transparent communication is prioritized and change can truly prosper – all the ingredients needed to remain financially viable, while driving clinical and operational value.