May 14, 2020 Read Advisory Board's take: Why cross-stakeholder collaborations are essential amid Covid-19

As hospitals and health systems work to mitigate supply chain gaps amid Covid-19, some are taking a page from internet dating and going to online "matchmaking" sites to swap needed supplies.  

The global demand for certain medications and medical supplies, such as gloves, masks, and other personal protective equipment has soared amid the Covid-19 pandemic—and manufacturers have struggled to keep pace.

Hospitals turn to online swap meets

As a result, hospitals and health systems are taking unique approaches to shore up their supplies.

For instance, last month the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington realized it needed additional face shields, but had a surplus of hand sanitizer from a local crowdsourcing effort. Meanwhile, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was in need of hand sanitizer but had extra face shields. 

Both hospitals posted descriptions of their supply needs and surpluses on a new online trading platform called The Exchange at Resilinc, The Associated Press reports. The platform was created in a joint effort by Stanford Health Care, consulting firm Premier, and logistics software company Resilinc to match hospitals with surpluses of certain items with those in need.

For the two New England hospitals, the platform was a success. The service matched the two hospitals, enabling them to trade 500 items of both hand sanitizer and face shields. 

Charlie Miceli, head of supply chain at University of Vermont Medical Center, said of the platform, "It gives you some breathing room so you can go track down more supply."

According to the Associated Press, more than 900 hospitals, as well as thousands of surgery centers, nursing homes, and other facilities signed up for The Exchange at Resilinc within the platform's first two weeks of launching. The platform has facilitated a dozen trades involving thousands of items, according to the Associated Press

Resilinc CEO Bindiya Vikal said N95 masks are the top requested item, but the site also facilitates loans for medicines and medical equipment, such as ventilators and patient beds.

But The Exchange at Resilinc is far from the only internet swap meet for hospitals available today. Others, according to the Associated Press, include a site run by Vizient, as well as more tailored services like Cohealo, which helps hospitals temporarily loan medical equipment like ventilators, and Helping Hospitals, which seeks to match doctors and other medical workers whose regular jobs have been disrupted with hospitals experiencing flare ups.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for this," Michelle Hood, COO of the American Hospital Association, said. "It's sure made a difference to those who got supplies when they really needed them" (Johnson, Associated Press, 5/12; Moreno, The Hill, 5/12).

Advisory Board's take

Brandi Greenberg, VP of Life Sciences and Health Care Ecosystem Research and Colleen Keenan, Consultant

The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the health care supply chain, and as a result, it has revealed a number of startling discoveries: 1) the federal government has insufficient infrastructure to create a coordinated allocation and distribution process, and 2) inherent flaws in health care supply chain strategies, intended to maximize efficiency, have inhibited the resiliency and transparency necessary for health systems to procure adequate supplies during this crisis. These challenges have delayed the United States' ability to ramp up production and distribute supplies to providers who need them most.

In response, we've seen a lot more innovation than the onslaught of non-traditional PPE suppliers already documented in national media. We've seen disruptive new entrants emerge with platforms and tools to increase supply chain visibility, and now we're seeing traditional supply chain partners—most notably GPOs, distributors, tech platforms, and health systems—collaborate in new-in-kind ways to form exchanges (like The Exchange at Resilinc) that epitomize creativity, resiliency, and transparency. GPOs and distributors, with their broad-based provider and supplier relationships, are well-positioned to serve as neutral hubs, but they're also revealing some critical agility by helping facilitate these new kinds of hospital-to-hospital exchanges (as opposed to the traditional supplier-to-purchaser transactions).

These types of cross-stakeholder collaborations and exchanges are essential interim measures as providers struggle to access sufficient supplies to treat Covid-19 patients. For now, supply chain information-sharing across organizations appears limited to only the most critical items, but it could chart a course toward far more flexible and transparent means of procurement. Only time will tell if these latest exchanges are temporary band-aids or transformational advancements in how suppliers, distributors, GPOs, analytics platforms, and providers can work together to create a more adaptable and transparent supply chain.

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