How Will the Supply Chain Respond to the Demand for Health Equity?


The COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps more than any other event in history, raised global awareness of the significance of the healthcare supply chain. As a result, supply chain management, usually felt only when something goes wrong, has become an increasingly important concern.  

Hospitals and health systems have had significant supply chain issues, ranging from a lack of personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic to a lack of crutches now. As of October 2021, 99% of hospitals and health systems report supply procurement challenges. 

Now, as hospital shelves restock with essential supplies and America approaches herd immunity, the supply chain has another chance to contribute to addressing one of healthcare’s most challenging issues: health equity. Health equity is more than just a matter of public policy and care delivery. It cuts across industries and can impact value chains from one end to another. Here’s what the supply chain can do to prevent health inequities. 

Recognizing the Marginalized Groups

Many studies have linked systemic racism to increased incidence and severity of COVID-19 among the poor, who are disproportionately people of color. But that doesn’t mean you can’t act right away. Acknowledging that health disparities are frequently associated with marginalized people is a good start.  

Last year, the COVID-19 crisis brought this reality to light, as UK data uncovered higher diagnosis rates among ethnic minorities. One important reason was that minority populations are more likely to live and work in environments where they are more likely to be exposed to the virus. 

Overall, as healthcare slowly recovers from the pandemic, many practitioners see virtual health expansion as a priority for 2022. Bringing telehealth to the mainstream will help improve patient access and quality of care, reduce healthcare costs, and relieve hospital burdens.

Understanding Operational Efficiency

We are already reaping the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and machine learning to understand better which products work best for which patient populations and forecast their future health needs. Supply chains could use this data to collaborate with clinicians to source and improve access to the products and services most needed by the poor and communities of color. 

Training and Development

With the emergence of new jobs comes the requirement for training and advancement in one’s career. Hospitals are also playing a role in this. In Chicago, for example, hospitals serving deprived areas collaborated to establish a shared laundry and hire residents to fill critical medical assistant positions. Hospitals, including supply chain departments, are also operating to hire and develop career opportunities for women and minorities to reflect better and serve their communities. 

Bottom Line

These are just some possibilities to consider, and we are sure there are many more if we look at the supply chain in a broader context. Consider going beyond the primary focus of the supply chain today: sourcing, contracting, storing, and delivering clinical goods used in hospital care.  

As the pandemic has taught us, one’s health is more dependent on what happens outside of the hospital. Supply chain professionals can also collaborate with public health officials and community resources to optimize population health and reduce health disparities. 

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