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Supply Chain Within the Hospital: How Nurses Can Be Involved

Supply Chain Within the Hospital: How Nurses Can Be Involved

COVID-19 has undoubtedly turned our world upside down in the last year, and nobody has felt it more than the healthcare industry. Hospitals and other healthcare practices have been struggling to keep sufficient levels of protective equipment to protect healthcare workers, along with struggling to provide an overwhelming patient population with the needed supplies.

While the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted these issues, it is not the first time hospital supply chain efficiency and management has come into question. Patient care often hinges on the patient being able to get the needed materials at the right time, and it is up to healthcare workers within the hospital to advocate for patient care and supply chain changes when they realize there is an ongoing issue. 

Because of their direct involvement with patient care and patient advocacy, nurses play an important role in speaking up to management within the hospital and healthcare network to address needed improvements. However, many nurses notice the problem but feel overwhelmed or helpless with how to start the conversation. Here are a few ways nurses can help to improve supply chain within the hospital:

Help Develop Evaluation Tools

Developing clear evaluation tools can be an important step in supply chain management. By being able to record objective observations and data, there is clear information to present when reaching out to third parties and explaining the improvements needed. Evaluations can also help track when new shipments are needed and which types of supplies are typically under- or over-ordered.

Share New Technologies

In many cases, nurses are the first to become aware of new technologies. Those within hospitals who do not work directly with patients may be less aware of technological developments and the latest equipment, so it’s important for nurses to speak to others within the hospital and share their discoveries. Many times, hospitals are willing to consider switching their purchases if it will benefit the level of care for the patients or make life easier for the practitioners. By being transparent with the materials you believe the hospital should be stocking, you can take an active role in ensuring the supply room has the best quality materials for the job.

Find Out Who To Contact

Sometimes, it comes down to who you know. If an item is out of stock or running low, it may be that the hospital has ordered the item and it is backlogged or there is another external variable causing the supply issues. If you are aware of who is in charge of communicating with supply chain stakeholders, you can identify the problem and implement a solution, such as requesting approval for an alternate material or manufacturer. Communicating directly with those in charge of purchasing can also be useful as an avenue to share observations about what is being supplied is being over-ordered or understocked. 

Collaborate with Other Hospitals and Nurses

Do you know folks at a neighboring hospital or have practitioner friends in other states? Ask them about the concerns you have and see if their workplace has come up with solutions that may be beneficial in your hospital or healthcare practice. Many times, hospitals across the country face similar challenges and those in management positions are faced with the same task of fixing them. Different strategies yield different results, and we can all learn from each others’ mistakes and successes. 

Be Aware of System Interdependencies

It is very important for nurses and other healthcare staff to be aware of the interdependencies between departments. For example, if there is an increase in the number of deliveries, there will also be an increase in the number of patients needing postpartum care and neonatal care. If there is a forecasted boom in one department, increased supplies should not just be ordered for that department but for all of the departments that are likely to coincide with the increased demand.

Another tool is to increase transparency within the hospital between departments. While one area may be facing a shortage of a particular material, another department may have excess but be unaware of the need for it elsewhere in the hospital. By creating a centralized system of supplies and awareness, departments can work together to effectively allocate resources to where they will be most useful.

Forecast Changes

Especially in COVID-19 times, forecasting both supply and demand changes can be the difference between being 25% overloaded and 80% overloaded in high-patient volume times. While both may seem overwhelming, small changes can help more patients receive life-saving care and reduce health practitioner burnout. While forecasts may be rough estimates, watching testing trends and news from neighboring areas can provide enough information to make a general prediction that can be helpful to the hospital making the most informed supply chain decisions possible. 

In today’s society, there are high-speed prediction analytics available through certain software implementations. Speaking with your hospital or workplace to implement this technology can vastly increase the ability to act proactively. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

As our world changes, we are entering uncharted territory. All we can really do is take the information we are given and make recommendations based on our knowledge and experience. The more methods we try, the clearer understanding of what works well for our particular workplace and environment and what misses the mark. Asking questions, speaking up, making recommendations, and learning from the outcomes should all be things we do unapologetically. If you are in an environment where you feel your voice is not heard, speak to your colleagues. There is a good chance they feel the same way and together you can support one another and fight for change. Nurses are in the unique position of being one of the most directly involved people in patient care, and this is an influence that should be utilized to help the healthcare system continue to improve. 


Josie Burridge

Josie Burridge


Josie is a college graduate from the University of Michigan in biomedical engineering. She is currently studying for a graduate degree in public health and is focusing her education on population health sciences and improving health care systems in our communities. She loves the way in which the medical field is constantly evolving as new discoveries are made, and she hopes to one day contribute her own research!


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