Should Supply Chain Involve Nursing in Designing Supply Chain Processes?

By John Freund

Hospital supply chain leaders have asked me “To what extent should I be involving clinicians in supply chain decisions?  Do I need to enlist nursing in designing supply chain processes and implementing new configurations in their department?”  The answer I always give is the same: the clinical team should be intimately involved, because everything related to how supplies are managed impacts their day.  I’ve looked at studies that say between 20 and 30 percent of a clinician’s time is spent managing supply chain-related activities. With a percentage this high – nearly one-third of their day – I can’t help but say that impacts patient care.  If this much time within a nurse’s day is spent away from patients, managing other activities, it’s vitally important we understand how the clinical team operates and how patient care is delivered in every department within our organization so we can reduce this time.  Supply chain leaders carry the burden of minimizing impact on clinicians.  To design extremely effective processes, we need to involve the clinical team and ask them to work with us to understand specifically how things are done in each department.  Working shoulder-to-shoulder with them will help us gain this understanding and then, enable supply chain to deliver the inventory approach and supporting business process that will ensure clinical time spent on supply chain activities is minimized.

Enlisting the help and support of the nursing team will help in another key area:  building clinicians’ confidence in the inventory system. They need to believe in the data that’s being used to set inventory levels for products they use to care for patients.  Once you’ve got your new supply system up and running, you need to surface data to the clinicians.  When you can bring real information to the nurse managers and sit down with them and say, “We’re going through this product much faster than we expected.  Here’s the report that gives us the velocity information. And, we’re going through these products more slowly than what we’d expected.  With these results, we want to make an adjustment to the amount of inventory we’re keeping in the system.”  Involving the nurses and building confidence in the methodology will help eliminate old behaviors like hoarding, and drive down overstocking and waste.

When supply chain leaders routinely meet with the head of nursing in each department, and involve those individuals at a more detailed level, sharing data about how the supply chain and the inventory is functioning within their area, it helps them become part of the process.  I’ve walked into hospitals where nursing satisfaction scores were at 5-10 percent based on recent surveys taken by the hospital.  Then we’ve created processes involving members of the clinical team in the design and development of new systems, and sharing with them the data they’ll be seeing on an ongoing basis.  At the end of this work and following implementation of new inventory processes, we’ve seen nursing satisfaction levels climb to 85 to 95 percent.  In turn, patient care (and likely patient satisfaction) can greatly improve because we’re created a business process that ensures the nursing staff is not burdened with supply chain.  Their time is freed up to deliver patient care and they feel greater job satisfaction.  At these customer organizations, when I’ve walked back out the door with my team, the relationship between supply chain and nursing has changed.  And that’s good for our future.