FAQ: COVID-19 & Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Medical products distributors supply PPE and other medical products critical to everyday operations of 300,000 hospitals and other healthcare sites around the country. This FAQ answers questions about how PPE is used, what products are needed to prevent transmission of COVID-19, how COVID-19 demand has impacted the supply, and how distributors help their provider customers with PPE supplies.
Download FAQ►
(Adobe PDF File)

What do distributors do?

Medical products distributors supply PPE and other medical products critical to everyday operations of 300,000 hospitals and other healthcare sites around the country, with items ranging from gauze and gloves to diagnostic tests and capital equipment. Together, they serve more than 95% of the nation’s doctors, nurses, hospitals, and other care providers with advanced logistics, specialized expertise, and technology. Distributors support patient-provider interactions in every care setting including office visits, surgical procedures, nursing home care, and home care.

How is personal protective equipment (PPE) used in healthcare settings?

PPE products are used every day in healthcare to protect both healthcare workers and their patients. PPE products cover the eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and sometimes the entire body. By reducing the chance of touching, being exposed to, and spreading the virus, PPE is critical in pandemic emergencies to keep front-line healthcare workers and their patients safe.

What types of PPE are used to prevent transmission of COVID-19?
  • Gloves
  • Gowns
  • Face masks
  • N95 respirators
  • Goggles
  • Face shields
  • Shoe covers
  • Full-body hazardous-material suits
Where is PPE made?

The PPE supply chain is global. Asia, and China in particular, is an important source of PPE for the U.S. healthcare supply chain. PPE is also manufactured in the U.S., Mexico, and Latin America.

How has COVID-19 impacted PPE supply in the U.S.?

COVID-19 increased demand for PPE worldwide at the same time that it hampered overseas manufacturing capacity. The epidemic started in an important manufacturing center for PPE – China. This reduced production and exports of PPE at the outset of the disease. As COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., demand for PPE increased significantly in a short period of time, in many cases outstripping supplies which were already constrained due to the manufacturing disruption.

How are distributors helping their provider customers during this PPE shortage?

Distributors are doing everything possible to get product to providers who need it across the U.S. They are working with existing manufacturer partners, non-traditional suppliers, and government agencies to speed shipments and increase capacity. And they are conserving existing PPE inventory through policies designed to prevent hoarding and reduce waste.

What is the difference between medical products distributors and brokers?

Distributors are an integral part of the United States’ secure healthcare supply chain. Distributors take ownership of the products they sell, offer advanced logistics capabilities, and have long-term business relationships with their healthcare provider customers. They are authorized by manufacturers to carry their products and have negotiated contracts and other formal business relationships in place with hospitals, nursing homes and physician offices.

Brokers facilitate deals between sellers and buyers. They are part of an opportunity marketplace that exists only when extreme product shortages arise. Brokers do not take ownership of products, are focused on individual transactions, and do not have long-term relationships with either healthcare product sellers or buyers. This broker marketplace requires significant due diligence and expertise to avoid fraudulent offers and ensure product quality, availability and delivery. Reports of products offered to providers at 4-6 times market prices come from this opportunity marketplace.

For more information, visit HIDA’s Coronavirus Resource Center.