Reliable Transportation Is Part Of Building A More Robust Supply Chain

Matthew J. Rowan

Matthew J. Rowan
HIDA President & CEO

Published in The Journal of Healthcare Contracting
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October 1, 2021

COVID-19 has created a host of complications. Those impacts extend into the transportation system where congestion at vital ports, scarcity of containers, and critical labor shortages are preventing the return to the reliable flow of products healthcare providers need. Rather than improving as the pandemic has continued, those challenges have grown more significant and are expected to stretch into 2022.

Transportation problems have become healthcare problems. Variability in logistics prevents the consistency expected in the supply chain. In addition to driving up costs, it affects the ability of providers to offer quality medical care during a public health emergency. The ongoing response to COVID-19 so far has shown areas where industry and government can partner to build a more robust and resilient healthcare supply chain.

Earlier this year, the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA) convened a meeting of board members from HIDA and the HIDA Educational Foundation to share insights on supply chain challenges and solutions developed during the COVID-19 response. The effect of the nation’s transportation woes on the medical supply chain were just part of the challenges that were addressed. The thought leaders’ discussion included surge manufacturing, diversified sourcing, and supply chain readiness. Their goal was to develop policy recommendations for a key issue: improving readiness and response to future pandemics. 

The nucleus of the proposals was the need for strong public-private partnerships to leverage each other’s resources and strengths. Based on that core principle, HIDA developed and released three strategic recommendations to make the U.S. healthcare supply chain more agile, flexible, and transparent for healthcare providers to improve the nation’s readiness and response to future pandemics.

1. Build A Bigger Cushion

A vital focus on government-industry coordination should be on establishing our ability to fulfill healthcare providers’ initial demand during a healthcare emergency while giving critical time to ramp up additional manufacturing production capacity. We must anticipate needs by establishing a core critical supply list in advance and think beyond a conventional approach to stockpiling those items. By absorbing the first wave of pandemic demand, we can allow the supply chain the time it needs to generate and distribute more of what providers need.

2. Establish A National Sourcing Strategy

We must create the capacity to quickly ramp up medical supply production and an important element in that approach is diversifying global sourcing. COVID-19 has revealed the need to diversify the sources of supply. Key to diversification is manufacturing of critical medical supplies here in the U.S. – and enable surge manufacturing when emergency needs arise. Those are long-term solutions. In the short term, we need to prioritize the transportation of PPE and other critical medical supplies so they can move quickly through ports of entry and into the U.S. distribution system.

3. Ensure Supply Chain Readiness

Government and industry need to work more collaboratively now to better define our respective roles, expectations, and connection points to access products in future pandemics. The most effective approach is to identify and embrace best supply chain practices. We must foster and develop structured communications protocols that will help avoid competition for the same critical products. We need to ensure providers understand the importance of partnering with proven, experienced companies they can rely upon, especially in an emergency situation.

This is a broad overview of the detailed recommendations HIDA’s Thought Leaders developed to help guide public-private planning to better prepare the healthcare supply chain for future pandemics. Providers can learn more about how they would benefit from these proposals and how they can contribute to their implementation by checking out HIDA’s “Building A More Robust Supply Chain: Industry Recommendations For A Strong Public-Private Pandemic Infrastructure,” at

Matthew J. Rowan is President & CEO of the Health Industry Distributors Association (HIDA).

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