Every pandemic or emergency scenario in healthcare is uniquely
different, yet each share similarities. They can impact various aspects
of provider or supplier operations, may require specific products to
treat affected patients, and often lead to panic ordering – whether
caused by hoarding mentalities or fears of being unable to access
During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, provider orders surged for personal
protective equipment like gloves, gowns, and masks. This demand spike
limited nationwide availability of supplies, and even led some providers
to pursue alternate, more expensive channels to purchase products.
Recent hurricanes have affected large regions of Texas, Florida, and
Puerto Rico, temporarily disabling some factory operations and limiting
production capacity. While impacted suppliers already have domestic and
international contingency plans in place to fill supply chain gaps, some
providers still felt the need to purchase extra amounts of medical
In the event your organization ever encounters an emergency situation
like those described above, distribution partners agree that increased
buying without demand or utilization justification only exacerbates the
problem and increases costs for all trading partners. By putting the
right processes and contingencies in place in advance of these events,
you can help avoid product shortages, maintain consistent access to
product, and ensure products don’t end up expiring in stock rooms or on
shelves by going unused.
Distributors recommend customers focus on two main preparation areas
to avoid panic ordering: contingency planning and data and technology.
- Map out alternate delivery routes for your vendor partners to use in
case of detours, road closures, or hazardous conditions during severe
- Agree on automatic substitution lists or pre-approved alternate products to avoid shortages of critical items.
- Ask whether your distributor contracts for reserved inventories.
These arrangements set aside guaranteed product reserves for your
organization, regardless of the emergency scenario.
- Keep your emergency contact lists up-to-date, including all city,
county, state, and federal emergency response contacts for easy
Data and Technology
- Work with your distributor to analyze utilization reports that
precisely determine inventory minimums and maximums. Usage rates can be
calculated by month, week, day, and even by clinical department.
- Agree upon hypothetical or conditional orders to be used if
communications ever go down at your organization. These orders can be
pre-loaded in distributor systems at any time.
- Set up organizational weather alerts on computers, cell phones, and
email systems so your staff can be notified if inventory reserves need
to be increased several days before a storm actually hits.
- Employ generators and cell/satellite phones for backup power and
communications access if city grids ever fail during extreme weather.
During public health emergencies, it’s common to feel the need to
purchase extra amounts of medical products for fear that access to
certain supplies will be disrupted. However, this behavior often
accelerates product shortages or leads to returns, unnecessary
deliveries, or expired product after an event concludes.
Healthcare supply chains may become leaner during public health
crises, but suppliers are well equipped to manage proactively their
inventories and infrastructure to serve customers effectively. The best
way to avoid being caught off guard or falling into a pattern of
over-ordering is to maintain open communication with your supply