Representatives from Owens & Minor recently had the opportunity to host a breakfast forum for hospital supply chain and perioperative leaders at this year’s Health Connect Partners in Las Vegas, NV. There was a lot of good discussion with participants talking about a range of challenges they face, from supply chain resiliency to staffing shortage to lack of capital for critical investments. However, there were three that seemed to resonate with the participants.
- Rationalizing the Number of Software Solutions
Several participants at the forum recounted how their systems have active projects underway to reduce the number of discreet software solutions they have. One participant mentioned that they have hired a consultant and are looking to reduce the number of discreet solutions from 150 to 90 or fewer. He recounted how they just have too many solutions, sometimes with little difference in functionality between them. He said that “one hospital might use solution A to help with inventory management while another hospital might use solution B for that same thing.”
Another participant had a similar initiative underway. “Our IT department just doesn’t have the bandwidth to support all these solutions,” another shared. He continued, “We could hire more IT people, but do you know how hard it is to hire IT talent these days?”
- Margin Pressure
Another issue that was brought up by several participants was the declining margins of hospitals. More specifically, several participants brought up the fact that revenue remains flat while costs, particularly labor costs, which is the biggest cost category at a hospital, are increasing. The result is thinner and thinner margins and often margins that are negative. This isn’t a new issue. It’s an issue that has been in the press numerous times this year. However, hearing from participants about how their margins are shrinking and the consequences made this issue more poignant for the people in the room.
One participant talked about rising costs and their struggles to address them. “We just can’t pass our cost increases on to our customers as a lot of businesses can.” This participant recounted that the U.S. government is their biggest customer and the reimbursement rates they pay are set by Medicare and Medicaid, not the hospital.
There were several solutions discussed on ways a hospital can overcome margin pressure. The one that generated the most discussion was having specialty hospitals by different clinical areas for a metro area, thus reducing the number of general acute care hospitals needed. It was pointed out that specialized hospitals often have lower costs and better outcomes for the same procedure than a general hospital does for those procedures. Those in the room recognized that this was a long-term solution at best and didn’t address the immediate needs of margin pressure.
- Hospitals want to Simplify Processes
Several participants mentioned they want solutions that simplify things. “I get bombarded with pitches for solutions that promise to do this and that, save me money, whatever. I just want solutions that simplify things for me.”
At that point, a person at a nearby table described how manual and cumbersome their bill only process is, taking days or even weeks to issue a purchase order for a physician preference item. Still, others recounted other processes at their hospitals that were overly complex, relying on paper forms and manual actions to finish a task.
The general consensus in the room was that technology can simplify many tasks, thus saving a hospital time and money. For instance, it was brought up that there are technology solutions to simplify the bill-only process and there are technology solutions to simplify other processes found in a hospital. The tricky part, as one person observed, is having the right balance of solutions so you don’t tax your IT staff.
The Owens & Minor breakfast forum was an insightful event for all involved. It enabled participants to share the challenges they are facing and explain how they are addressing them before a group of their peers, many of them facing the same challenges. Equally importantly, the forum provided an opportunity for Owens & Minor teammates to share what they see that works at hospitals they visit. Finally, the forum created a dialog among participants, one where they shared ideas and observations with each other. And it’s that, the talking to and learning from others in the room, that provided the greatest benefit to those attending.