From the time the World Health Organization (WHO) first declared COVID-19 a global health emergency in early 2020, the rapid spread of the disease, hospitalization rate and race for solutions to the pandemic have severely affected the health care industry. Ranging from private practices and hospitals to pharmaceuticals and vaccination development, COVID-19 cases and deaths have overwhelmed medical logistics in the past year. In response to this unprecedented state, medical logisticians had to rapidly transform their operations to adjust to the significant pressure the pandemic put on the supply chain.
Especially in times such as these, strong medical logistics strategies are essential. Best practices during a pandemic include having strategies that can be efficiently developed and integrated into the pre-existing supply chain. These practices should also be sustainable and adaptable to provide support in the event of similar incidents impacting medical logistics in the future.
Inventory and Sourcing
COVID-19 created a demand for medical personal protective equipment (PPE) like never before. Within the supply chain, inventory and sourcing of PPE, such as face masks, N95 respirators, face shields, goggles, gloves and isolation gowns, required improved methods to combat the pandemic as it quickly spread. Important adaptations to these medical logistics included enhanced PPE inventory and stock supplies on-site at hospitals and in off-site warehouse storage.
In addition to this, hospital systems have been encouraged to assist each other and share access to resources and any stockpiles. By regularly tracking, ordering, adding, removing, counting and transferring inventory, it can be ensured that enough (or extra) PPE is ordered to meet guidelines. To more effectively monitor this, it is recommended that supply chains require unique justifications or reasoning and two-person verification for the addition or removal of stock.
The health care industry has also aimed to develop better sourcing practices by using outside non-contract or “nontraditional” suppliers for their PPE to diversify sources and minimize reliance on other countries. This, along with increased PPE spending in hospital budgets, will ensure supply chain access and flow of inventory.
The various uses and power of technology became increasingly important in medical logistics once the pandemic emerged. This aspect of the medical supply chain guarantees non-physical access to a resource, while limiting person-to-person exposure in the pandemic. No-touch technology and virtual forms, appointments and health care communications became essential practices to limit exposure in the high-risk medical environment. Similarly, technology was further leveraged within the supply chain as health care and contact tracking and tracing became increasingly important in managing transactions. Lastly, electronic data interchanges (EDIs) are another recommended advancement to medical logistics to mobilize patient information and support the care provider-payer interaction.
The best practices in medical logistics for storage also was revisited during the pandemic. Overall, medical storage should be secured in a central location, requiring authorization to access PPE inventory and storage supply. The goal of implementing more of these “point of use” locations is to reduce decentralized storage for important equipment and ensure PPE is restocked more in these units. Additionally, it is recommended that storage facilities are monitored to regulate who is taking from storage.
Overall, best practices in medical logistics during a pandemic include more centralized yet supervised access to storage, while creating the opportunity to form an organized PPE lifecycle strategy. Within these storage facilities, protocols should be established on what to do with new PPE, recycled PPE and medical waste in relation to specific storage locations and resources.
Waste management is an extremely important facet of medical logistics because it ultimately ensures safe disposal of contaminated objects during a pandemic. Successful waste management systems prevent the cross-contamination of “non-hazardous” waste and decrease the risk of further infection from these materials. If cross-contamination occurs, this increases the load of potentially harmful waste that needs to be disposed of with care.
Effective protocols for waste management within the medical supply chain includes categorizing contaminated objects and creating specific guidelines for the disposal of objects within each category. Different categories such as sharps, non-sharp infectious waste and highly toxic waste might require different disposal methods and will determine proper materials needed for safe disposal. For example, special bins should be used for “highly toxic waste,” especially in a pandemic. Where possible, it is recommended that the health care industry uses existing disposal guidelines from pre-existing “routine” supply chains. Once established, training on these protocols is then able to be provided to all personnel involved in waste management.
Another issue medical logistics has been faced with during COVID-19 is concerning transportation. It is essential to have proper transportation in supply chains that is reliable and efficient to efficiently distribute emergency goods. The health care industry encountered this with COVID-19 test kits and the vaccines. Both items initially had limited manufacturing and needed quick, widespread distribution. On top of this, the vaccines’ eligibility guidelines, shipment location quotas and freezing storage temperatures created a challenge for the supply chain. Typically, the main concerns regarding transportation in medical logistics is improper handling and improper storage.
To navigate these issues in a pandemic, best transportation practices include mapping transport routes, collaborating with customs officials, and devising transport details and protocols concerning infrastructure and physical qualities or limitations of the items being transported. Proper planning is needed to cross borders and enter new territories and to avoid product waste.
The health care industry should continue to develop new, more effective medical logistics to ensure the supply chain is consistently operating efficiently. With protocols in place to withstand extreme demands placed on the system in instances of widespread emergencies such as a global pandemic, the health care industry will be able to better combat issues. It is important for medical logistics to evolve with the development of newer medical practices and technologies, while implementing best practices from the everyday supply chain for sustainable problem solving.
Ready to strengthen your logistics and make changes to enhance supply chain success? eIDB: LOG 21 is a course offered by the Institute for Defense and Business (IDB) designed for logistic specialists and sustainers, those in support roles, career levels 0-2 to 0-4, W-1 to W-3, E-7 to E-9, GS-11 – GS-13 and early career logistics professionals and sustainers from private industry. This course covers key topics ranging from technology and innovation to strategy formulation, implementation, logistics and risk. Learn wireless applications and process analysis while gaining a greater understanding of how you can optimize your logistics to withstand a variety of challenges.
About the Institute for Defense and Business
The Institute for Defense and Business (IDB) delivers educational programs and research to teach, challenge and inspire leaders who work with and within the defense enterprise to achieve next-level results for their organization. IDB features curriculum in Logistics, Supply Chain and Life Cycle Management, Complex Industrial Leadership, Strategic Studies, Global Business and Defense Studies, Continuous Process Improvement, and Stabilization and Economic Reconstruction. Visit www.IDB.org or contact us on our website for more information.