Winning Healthcare Supply Chain Strategies Used at Tufts Medical Center Chain

Meagan Douglas
Fri, Sep 2, 2016
Chris Johnson heads Tufts Medical Center’s supply chain, and he offers several strategies for those in the healthcare industry looking to make processes more efficienct and reduce costs.
Chris Johnson heads Tufts Medical Center’s supply chain, and he offers several strategies for those in the healthcare industry looking to make processes more efficienct and reduce costs.

Boston's Tufts Medical Center is more than just the average medical facility. U.S. News and World Report, ranked the 268-bed institution No. 15 in best Massachusetts hospitals. Plus, Tufts Medical Center has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health, AARP and University HealthSystem Consortium.

As such a renowned locale, it is important that the hospital integrate efficiency into every facet of its business strategy, from delivering high-quality patient care to optimizing supply chain management. That's exactly what Tufts Medical Center's head of supply chain, Chris Johnson, plans to do.

Who is Chris Johnson?
Johnson's supply chain experience makes him well-qualified for the head of supply chain position at Tufts Medical Center. According to Becker's Hospital Review, Johnson worked at the Virginia logistics organization Owen & Minor and the purchasing company Yankee Alliance. He also served as Boston Children's Hospital's contract analyst and value analysis coordinator. When he joined the Tufts Medical Team in 2015, he had plenty of expertise in all areas of the supply chain.

Optimizing the Supply Chain at Tufts Medical Center
In an interview with Becker's Hospital Review, Johnson explained how he overcame the unique challenges he faced in the Tufts Medical Center supply chain. For one, Johnson developed a value analysis program that has reduced waste and increased efficiency overall. Comprised of value analysis managers in addition to other hospital staff, the program's committee looks at products clinicians use. They ask questions like, is it time for an upgrade? What logistic and purchasing components go into buying a new product?

The team ensures that each product purchase decision is made with care but not mulled over so long that it impedes productivity. The collaboration of perspectives from different areas of the hospital streamline the process.

Johnson also stressed that communication is key for successful supply chain management. This is especially true in light of the recent influx of acquisitions and mergers. As Johnson explained, the manufacturer Medtronic's acquisition of the company Covidien must be conveyed to nurses. Otherwise, when they look for products, they might not be able to spot the item they need because packaging could look different than it did in the past. This has obvious implications for patient care, considering nurses might be delayed in returning to the bedside or grab the wrong product.

An Example for Other Health Care Institutions
Johnson's efforts proved successful at Tufts Medical Center and may benefit other facilities, too. In fact, he shared some of his ideas through a Health Industry Distributors Association presentation along with other supply chain experts.

One challenge faced by many hospitals is space: They may not have enough beds to meet the patient demand for care. In the presentation, Johnson and others suggested that supply chain management can mitigate this issue by finding new places to store inventory. Specifically, they have to relocate items to an off-site location, leaving behind empty space to fill with beds.

The first issue that arises from this solution is balancing off-site inventory what's available on-hand. That is, while the supply chain may want to free up space, they have to ensure there are enough products available for clinicians. Preventing out-of-stock incidents can go a long way in promoting quality care and helping medical professionals do their job.

Supply chain management can only strike this balance with effective data collection solutions. When all stages of the supply chain have access to information about inventory, companies can prevent over and underproduction of supplies. Meanwhile, logistics teams can ensure the right number of products are transferred from warehouses to facilities.

According to the RFgen white paper "Solving the Remote Warehouse Problem with High Availability Distributed Solutions," replication techniques offer perhaps the best method for managing remote warehouses. Specifically, a replicated view consists of both current warehouse activity and enterprise activity. Supply chain managers can achieve this strategy with products like RFgen's High Availability Distributed Solutions.

Maximizing Vendor Relationships
As many doctors do in hospitals, health care supply chain managers work in teams. That is, they often call on third-party vendors. As Johnson explained to Becker's Hospital Review, government regulations can add certain challenges to these relationships.

For example, he mentioned there are new regulations of IV fluids. It is important to select a partner that updates its practices to accommodate for these changes, but often hospitals are limited on who they can choose to team with. For IV fluids specifically, two major companies run the market, and one saw a temporary shutdown recently. This greatly limits a hospital's access to very important IV fluids. It is vital for medical facilities to select vendors that are not only compliant but also efficient. This way, they can more readily return to normal production levels following a crisis.

Reducing Costs
Based on Johnson's collaborative HIDA presentation, cost efficiency is also important for healthcare supply chains. Supply & Demand Chain Executive stressed that visibility is an integral part of achieving this goal. That is, supply chain managers must know exactly how much money is going to which vendors.

With this knowledge, they can then conduct a value analysis - much like the value analysis program utilized by Tufts Medical Center. Through this process, supply chain managers can determine the most cost efficient options for products, services and vendors.

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