September 08, 2021
It’s September and ‘Back-to-School’ time is here!
It’s September and ‘Back-to-School’ time is here!
But this year, it is weird.
The things we usually can predict like Back-to-School sales, ever-changing school bus schedules, kids, parents and teachers filled with excitement, anxiety and stress and more traffic are all a bit ‘off’ our normal expectations.
This year is different. School re-opening is confusing depending on where you live. Rules are ambiguous in many areas. There is heightened angst because of COVID. The routine of daycare, dropping off kids, picking them up, who is in class, who is virtual, is all in a turmoil because some of us work at home, some in the office and some in between. At the same time, public health rules are varied and changing.
Well, other parts of our lives also have the same uncertainty when it comes to how we continue with our tried and tested routines.
Healthcare is really in a state of upheaval. COVID is entering a fourth wave in many areas. There is a seeming plateau of vaccination rates. The economy in an ambiguous growth/contraction state with global supply chains for all products in a total state of chaos still.
In many ways, the supply chain issues are more acute now than at the beginning of COVID. As we close in on two years of the pandemic, we are in a strange cycle of catching up with demand, crazy increases in shipping costs, unknown demand forecasts for drugs and Med-Surg products (because the scenario of recovery is being challenged by the scenario of the fourth wave).
If you are feeling confused, you are in good company.
At HealthPRO, as we work with our members, suppliers, and government partners (oh did I mention we have a federal election in the middle of all this?) we are seeing the same feeling of confusion. It would be very easy to do nothing because we are not sure what is coming at us.
However, when faced with this level of ambiguity, the only rational thing to do is to prioritize tasks based on doing the things you KNOW rather than wring our hands about what we don’t know.
We KNOW we need a better solution to get a handle on pandemic supplies and pandemic stocks. The current uncoordinated system of federal, provincial, and regional stockpiles, all vying for the same products has us having an overabundance of some supplies (rumour is we have literally years and years supply of certain categories of PPE across the country) or missing vital supplies of other drugs/ Med-Surg products.
This is not about incompetency. As we work with the different players, we know there is a genuine will and knowledge to address the problem. But the system is rigged against us. Emergency planning never really dealt with the whole globe being in the same boat. It is often based upon some localized disaster where most of the economy and processes outside the disaster zone are robust.
But what happens when there is no island of normalcy across the globe?
We need to start thinking like a bigger system in Canada. At HealthPRO we are leading a push to have a more integrated view of pandemic supply planning and operations that would engage key vendors, key members/customers, and partners in government. There is an opportunity to re-align responsibilities where we ask everybody to focus on what they do best.
For governments, the best role they can play is to create forums and policies to allow provincial health authorities and regional health authorities to work in collaboration with each other. Also, the flow of funding should be streamlined to make it easier and faster to get into the hands of those who order supplies.
Whether it comes to PPE, drugs or Med-Surg, we are all drawing from the same or similar sources. We are creating our own scarcity or exacerbating it. I liken this to a scenario where my wife and I attend a private auction where bidders are secret, and we do not share our purchasing intentions. We both like the same painting and desperately want to get it. We secretly keep bidding against each other, driving the price up and creating a skewed sense of demand.
What happens if 20, 30 or 400 organizations are going to the same suppliers or marketplaces, asking for the same products and with overlapping demands both in quantity and timing? We saw this in the early days of the pandemic.
We see a role for suppliers to be more active in managing inventory and pandemic supplies. We can charge them with keeping the inventories fresh, safe, and rotated. We can also have a more centralized view of where nationally we are overstocking on certain items (again, I am willing to bet on the PPE issue, as an example, that Canada collectively has years of inventory) and where we are totally at risk on other items.
We can work with members and customers to get a better picture of demand. We see in drug management that when individual members are asked about a drug they need in surge, they are often challenged to estimate how much they need and may not end up purchasing the entire volume they originally anticipated. This is not out of any malicious intent. If you are a pharmacy director and asked how much of drug X you may need in a surge, you will likely ask for more than you need out of fear that you might be caught short if the supply disruption is extended. There is no apparent penalty for asking for more and then only ordering what you need. Or is there?
Without a more central view of supply and demand, we risk asking our suppliers to oversupply a drug or product at the price of not being able to deliver on something else. Do not forget, our suppliers are competing with other regions in their own companies for allocations of scarce supplies. Being able to get a decent allocation is often based on how much corporate trusts the regional entities. Our goal is to make the Canadian arms of our suppliers have top-notch credibility and sway with their corporate centers, so Canada is seen as a progressive market with responsible and balanced forecasts. The more we act in concert, the more we can actually get what we need for our system… collectively.
I believe we can make significant strides in how we approach our Canadian marketplace while still allowing for regional variation. In fact, the regional variation can very well allow us to take advantage of excesses and scarcity to share better and safer.
Yes, back-to-school is not “normal” this year. What is normal is that we know there are new lessons to be learned. And at HealthPRO we want to go back to school with our vendors, customers and government and learn the new lessons and apply them together.