Supply chain concerns have always placed pressure on procurement managers, and the COVID-19 pandemic brought new urgency to healthcare inventory purchasing. Austerity measures are also a new reality as systems react to what the American Hospital Association estimates to be a $202.6 billion financial loss to hospitals in early 2020.
As a result of these factors, healthcare facilities are looking for more ways to trim expenses within material management hospital functions.
Still, as a materials manager, it can be a challenge at times to champion different purchasing decisions, whether that's buying from a new vendor or modifying the order structure of an existing partner. When those decisions involve clinical accessories such as cuffs, probes, or cables, it can be even more of a challenge. There are, after all, several options to choose from, and the need for them never ends.
Having physician buy-in from the outset can help materials managers make their case to financial leadership. But getting that buy-in can be tricky. Physicians may not always be interested in trying new products or suppliers, especially when the old ways have done the job.
Even so, there are ways to get physicians to advocate for purchasing changes if those changes would materially improve patient care. Here's how to approach those conversations with your clinical leader.
1. Work as a Team
Materials managers and physicians work best when they work together. When clinicians understand the importance of material management in hospital operations—and when materials managers understand the realities of the clinic—it helps everyone focus on what matters: efficient and effective patient care.
But for the best chances of finding physician voices who can champion your purchasing idea, you will need to find someone willing to share their perspectives in the clinic. Listen for any pain points they might mention, from frustrations about product quality or stock to staff underutilization. Consider those perspectives the common ground: how can new strategies and ideas in material management solve them?
2. Discuss the Product's Life Cycle
Durability throughout the product's life cycle is important, and clinicians want to know that they can count on their equipment holding up when it's needed most. One of the best ways to convey quality is to ask the supplier about their reliability testing and any guarantees to ensure quality—as well as any special features that help to minimize wear and tear and extend the shelf life.
Combining that information with a clinical scenario can help to emphasize product quality in a real-life context. Say, for example, a vendor offers chemical-resistant jacketing for trunk cables and lead wires. Having that extra layer of protection to help the accessories withstand real-life conditions, bending, and twisting can restore clinician confidence in the product. Additionally, the use of genuine OEM parts can be another convincing factor to demonstrate quality.
3. Emphasize Availability and Convenience
Suppliers that offer a real-time, online inventory solution can be highly beneficial compared with others that don't show what's in stock based on their actual supply. Being able to see that part of availability not only helps materials managers navigate inventory planning, but it also gives clinicians the peace of mind of knowing that they won't be surprised by back-ordered items.
And, if your vendor offers an auto-order feature, point that out. Having that capability for regularly purchased items can make sure they're always on hand when clinicians need them, without having to take time to manually request a restock. Adjustable frequencies give providers even more latitude when it comes to accessory replacement.
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4. Demonstrate Cross-Compatibility
Equipment compatibility is a must, including backward compatibility with legacy machines. Given this importance, some clinicians may be hesitant to try new products or make a brand switch. A good way to assuage any concerns is to confirm that products have been engineer-tested and verified compatible with applicable systems, and then communicate that compatibility upfront with physicians. Showing compatibility lists in product catalogs can be a helpful resource to point to as well.
5. Highlight the Ergonomics
Sensors and other products that are tested and designed for increased patient comfort can help to save clinicians the time spent repositioning items after every bedside movement, and they can help them conclude exams such as ultrasounds more efficiently.
You can showcase ergonomics on the staff side as well. Accessories such as probes or carts that prioritize operator comfort can go a long way in ensuring everyone—both patients and clinicians—has a comfortable experience.
Remember that while physicians may deprioritize factors of cost or other administrative concerns, they do value the patient and staff experience. Focusing less on operational impacts of hospital procurement decisions and more on real-life outcomes—for example, improving HCAHPS scores or minimizing staff burnout—can go a long way in securing those voices for your case.