Supply Chain’s Responsibility to Good Outcomes

Throughout our personal and professional lives, the concept of responsibility permeates everything we do – all of our actions and our thoughts – often without us consciously recognizing it. It is impossible to touch, create or manufacture responsibility. It is an innate concept that is ingrained into most of us at an early age.

How many of us can remember the “responsibility reinforcers” from our younger years – mom and dad, grandparents, teachers, etc.? How many of us can remember the endless responsibility statements such as, “Go to church on Sunday,” or “Make your bed” or “Look both ways before crossing” or “Wash your hands before dinner?”

Through the reinforcement of so many adults (all of whom seemed to share the same “communication plan”) most people learn when they are young that responsibility is a part of our lives that is expected by all. Once we are older, we experience the joys of adult responsibilities, such as “Pay the bills,” or “Get to work” or “Cut the grass.” And when we have our own children, we become the responsibility reinforcers, passing along to the next generations the concept of responsibility and what we know about incorporating it into our lives.

Would our personal worlds be less desirable places if we did not learn to make our beds, wash our hands, cut the grass or go to work? Many might say it does not really matter. But in our professional lives, being responsible is a foundational element. If you cannot be responsible enough to do the simplest tasks such as show up for work each day, long-term success in employment (and in life) becomes much harder to achieve. The same responsibility concept applies to our job duties, where we know to tell the truth, work as part of a team and try hard.

For the past few decades, I have often heard the responsibility of healthcare supply chain stated something along the lines of, “Making sure we have the right product, in the right place, at the right price, at the right time.” In the past, when healthcare supply chain was seen by most through a logistics lens, this statement was generally accurate. But in this modern era of healthcare, supply chain is increasingly seen through a more strategic lens as a “connector” between the industry’s focus on cost, quality and outcomes. I believe our responsibilities extend much further to include “achieving the right outcome, with the right data, from the right source.”

Supply chain’s responsibility to foster right outcomes is a direct tie to its responsibility to patients. The past’s great emphasis on product cost will not go away and will remain important, but it is now being superseded by the renewed emphasis on quality outcomes. We now routinely ask the responsible question: will this product help us achieve the consistent high quality that our patients deserve? As an industry, all of us – manufacturers, distributors, providers – are responsible to make sure that each product contributes in some way to the care outcomes our patients expect.

The responsibility for right data has presented a new and fresh challenge for our industry. The days where everyone used their own proprietary number to identify products are coming to an end with the advent of a required unique device identifier, often implemented using the GTIN (Global Trade Item Number). The days of free-texting information about products into the medical record will end soon after the GTIN becomes commonplace. It is our responsibility as an industry to maximize the use of modern technology with this new numbering system. Responsible implementation across all supply chain industry segments will foster the ability to insure the correct product is being used. It will also allow all supply chain stakeholders to see up and down the supply chain, allowing our manufacturers to better plan for fluctuations in demand, while providers will be able to locate needed products more quickly.

Our responsibility for right source is really not new, but it has taken on a new emphasis with global manufacturing. Our industry has accepted the responsibility for ensuring that the products we use to treat patients are made from proper materials in the proper setting by responsible people in a responsible way. With billions spent each year on patient care supplies and equipment, being true to this responsibility will have a significant positive impact on our world.

I have recently encountered a wonderful example of healthcare responsibility in my own life when my brother, a Vietnam veteran, was cared for at a local VA hospital. While there is no denying that the VA has been a much criticized organization over the last few decades, I observed incredible examples of VA staff pleasantly and professionally fulfilling their responsibilities to our veterans. Ironically, the VA staff are simply following the examples that their patients have set for them. Through their service to protect our country, America’s veterans display the ultimate example of responsibility.

Dennis Orthman is Senior Director of the Strategic Marketplace Initiative, a consortium of healthcare supply chain executives united to reengineer and advance the future of the healthcare supply chain. He can be reached at

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