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The Key to Keeping Your Pandemic Supply Chain Agile and Active Can Be Found in “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” Lifelines

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Do you have the critical business information, assets and processes to better respond to future waves of the pandemic?

Much has been written about the unprecedented shortages in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitizer, disinfectants, cleaning products, ventilators and other critical medical equipment and supplies brought on not only by the COVID-19 pandemic but also the critical gaps in the healthcare supply chain.

With many locations around the world coming out of the first wave of the pandemic, organizations are taking stock and asking: Do we have the critical business information, assets and processes to better respond to future waves? To answer this question, healthcare providers need to look no further than the rebooted game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

For those of you who need a refresher, the format of the game show is pretty straightforward: contestants can win a top prize of $1,000,000 by answering a series of multiple-choice questions that increase in difficulty and they can reach out for assistance using “lifelines” if a question proves too hard.

So, let’s take a look at how Millionaire’s lifelines can help your pandemic supply chain become more active and agile.

  • Phone a Friend: Using this lifeline, contestants call a pre-arranged friend to discuss the question and collaborate on an answer.

In some areas of the country, competing health systems are now collaborating to secure desperately needed equipment and supplies. On the east coast, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have joined forces to create a regional supply chain for PPE, ventilators, testing supplies and other vital equipment. In Chicago, hospitals are contemplating joint efforts to manufacture PPE locally to reduce reliance on importing. Providers across our nation are coming together or essentially “phoning a friend” to strengthen purchasing power and improve leverage with suppliers worldwide.

  • 50:50: With this lifeline, two incorrect answers are eliminated, narrowing down the choices to just two answers to choose from.

Unfortunately, as the nation watched the numbers of positive COVID-19 cases and fatalities sharply rise, so too did the volume of counterfeit goods pouring into the country. As of May, Operation Stolen Promise, led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, made 11 arrests and 519 seizures of counterfeit goods, including masks, mislabeled medicines and fake COVID-19 tests.

So if your supply chain question is, “How can we quickly ramp up desperately needed supplies and equipment?”, here are two incorrect answers to immediately rule out:

1) Supplement Your Stockpile With Counterfeit Supplies: The pandemic has brought to light that knock-offs and counterfeits don’t just happen in the fashion industry and with luxury goods. Masks with earloops were being passed off as certified safe for workers in clinical settings. These masks are not only less expensive to make, but they’re also not effective in filtering out airborne particles like genuine N95 masks. Comparing the proposed product’s specifications against industry or CDC recommendations will help avoid the cost and risk of purchasing counterfeit supplies.

2) Place Orders With Unvetted Sources: Nobody wants to be duped, and certainly not in a time of crisis. Securing ventilators and other medical equipment from unvetted and non-traditional sources almost became a costly $86M mistake for New York state officials who narrowly avoided buying 1,450 ventilators from an engineer who had no experience in procuring medical equipment. So what was the tip off that this deal was heading south? The vendor required buyers to sign a contract within four hours of receiving a quote and pay for orders upfront, and in full and deals were non-negotiable. Bottom line, the pandemic reinforced the old adage, “Buyer beware”.

  • Ask The Host: This relatively new lifeline allows contestants to ask for the host’s, or in this case the CDC’s, advice when answering a question.

To help healthcare organizations project how long their current supply of PPE will last, and to better forecast future needs, the CDC rolled out a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Burn Rate Calculator. The spreadsheet-based tool calculates the average consumption or “burn rate” of supplies so that facilities can more efficiently plan and best optimize use of their PPE.

  • Accompanying Supporter: Contestants have unlimited access to their supporter for their first ten questions and during the final five questions they can consult their accompanying supporter one time.

Many U.S. manufacturers supported healthcare workers, first responders and patients fighting COVID-19 by producing much needed medical equipment and supplies. Ford produced masks, respirators, gowns and testing kits. Tesla engineers manufactured a ventilator prototype made from car parts to assist the medical industry without using scarce supplies. Furthermore, not only did Apple source 20 million masks from their supply chain but they also began manufacturing foldable plastic face shields for healthcare frontline workers. Highly adaptable and geographically more accessible, these organizations can serve a critical support system in pandemic scenarios where global travel and logistics are highly disrupted.

What Have Our Lifelines Taught The Healthcare Industry So Far?

Now that the pandemic is peaking in some locations while still surging in others, how can healthcare facilities move ahead confidently to redefine and develop a more resilient and efficient supply chain? Here are some simple guidelines:

  • establish a stockpile of critical supplies and equipment that, at minimum, include 90 days of supplies

  • standardize pandemic inventory management and fulfillment workflows so you can scale with speed and control as demand surges

  • store critical assets in a secure, offsite location until needed to protect assets from getting lost, misplaced or stolen

  • use an online inventory ordering and tracking tool to maintain ready access and up-to-date visibility

  • build in resiliency

  • develop a plan for routine stock rotation, inspection and equipment testing

To learn more about boosting pandemic preparedness and response, check out Iron Mountain’s latest ebook Plan, Pivot and Persevere: Boosting Pandemic Preparedness and Response in Healthcare. While it won’t make you a millionaire, it will certainly enrich you with some timely and practical advice.

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