The global pandemic has taught us many lessons, including elevating awareness of the strategic importance of the supply chain and the impact of the social determinants of health on the well-being of the most vulnerable individuals and communities. Together, these lessons also raise the possibility of supply chain playing a bigger role in addressing the needs of disadvantaged populations.
Let’s consider the facts. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), across the U.S., hospitalization rates due to Covid-19 for non-Hispanic Blacks and American Indians, as well as Hispanics and Latinos, was approximately 5 times higher than that of non-Hispanic white people. Why? These populations have higher rates of underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity.
People of color are also more likely to live and work in environments that contribute to these underlying conditions. For example, poorer individuals are often employed as low wage, essential workers and live in crowded and sometimes less sanitary housing and in neighborhoods with less access to nutritional food and healthcare, among other key necessities for healthy living.
Finally, the Black Lives Movement has once again turned attention toward the impact of systemic racism on health, which was first documented by social medicine scholars in the mid- 19th century.
But what’s this got to do with supply chain? A lot, if you think more broadly about the fundamental capabilities of the supply chain and logistics profession.
At its core, supply chain and logistics are about ensuring the right resources are available, when and where they are most needed, in the most efficient and effective manner. If you consider that the desired output of the healthcare system is optimal health (the underlying objective of the move to value-based healthcare), then the healthcare supply chain has opportunities far beyond just delivering clinical products to hospitals. For example, how can supply chain support the proven need for nutritious food to stem the epidemic levels of adult-onset diabetes in this country? The Geisinger Fresh Food Farmacy is a perfect example. There, supply chain has supported a highly successful effort to source, deliver, store and distribute nutritionally appropriate food to low-income patients with a high prevalence of Type II diabetes. That program has significantly improved the health of these individuals, while lowering the health systems’ operating costs for treating these patients.
Other health systems have launched similar programs, opening grocery stores in disadvantaged neighborhoods and delivering meals to low-income patients before and after surgery.
The critical shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other products during the pandemic has spurred demands for more domestic manufacturing to minimize our dependence on foreign sources of critical goods. This creates yet another supply chain opportunity to foster community health and well-being. What if we could expand the business case for domestic manufacturing by supporting economic development in disadvantaged communities? Given the multiplier effect of manufacturing jobs, investing in manufacturing and distribution capabilities, along with job training, in these communities can create far greater value – in the form of healthier and more productive individuals.
As in many industries, healthcare supply chain professionals look for opportunities to increase their spend with diverse (women, minority and veteran-owned) suppliers. Increasingly, hospitals and healthcare systems are looking beyond company ownership to identify local diverse suppliers that can have a direct, positive impact on the community – from PPE manufacturers to financial institutions that can provide loans and other assistance.
Finally, supply chain can support environmental sustainability. One of the negative consequences of the pandemic has been an exponential increase in the use of plastics, which are a core ingredient for many forms of disposable PPE, including masks and gowns. While the goal during the height of the pandemic was to acquire as much product as possible, some hospital supply chain leaders are now working with clinicians and manufacturers to design products that are reusable and more environmentally sustainable. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK takes it one step further by actively working to minimize the provision of unnecessary healthcare services and the corresponding use of products, as part of its mission to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Despite broad differences in how healthcare is financed around the world, every society has a finite amount of resources to optimize the health of its population. Supply chain and logistics professionals have a wealth of opportunities to support this effort, from sourcing the best products for everything from prevention to treatment, and ensuring those products are available, when and where they are most needed.
Disclaimer: this article was written by an external expert contributor to CEVA Insights. The perspectives and ideas are the contributor's and do not necessarily reflect the views of CEVA Logistics.