The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating, real-time impact on the healthcare supply chain, making it increasingly difficult to treat patients effectively. Real-time data requests, most ad-hoc in nature, reached unparallel levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare organizations were simultaneously in need of information while responding to data requests, which became increasingly complex and unsustainable. With no data-sharing agreements in place, despite planning for and responding to pandemic events before, there was a heavy burden on the healthcare industry during this unprecedented event.
Now in the post-COVID-19 environment, private-industry stakeholders, public-sector partners and the federal government all acknowledge the need to prioritize communication and collaboration for improved coordination and information sharing. Strengthening the nation’s critical supply chain is a responsibility for all given its close link to critical infrastructure security and stability. Our critical infrastructures are so interconnected that cascading impacts on one sector can have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof. For example, port congestion due to the disruptive nature of the pandemic from truck driver shortages in 2021 delayed not only transportation of supplies, but the large fluctuations in import demand supported by pandemic boosted imports and e-commerce demand. Lessons learned from the pandemic allowed us to better understand the status of the U.S. supply chain, its vulnerabilities, and residual impacts from the pandemic. Understanding the need for enhanced data-sharing practices and value of transparency over the past three years, the importance of data within the supply chain ecosystem is paramount to its resilience.
In partnership with the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA), Partner Forces conducted a study on the role of data in building a more resilient supply chain. HDA and its members believe that data transparency and illumination play a crucial role in bolstering the integrity and resilience of the healthcare supply chain, especially during public health emergencies. Our report found that resiliency is enabled when data is available for quicker, more informed decisions. Proactive and robust plans for data collection and information sharing across the supply chain ecosystem are the foundation of successful supply chain information communication strategies. Investing in this supply chain ecosystem improves resilience for the next pandemic, or other catastrophic supply chain interruption.
Based on the three major elements of healthcare supply chain resilience – Robustness, Agility, and Visibility – the following recommendations were made in the Healthcare Supply Chain Resilience and Data Illumination report that are applicable to any supply chain:
- Create more collaboration opportunities across different sectors to form communication channels. Establish a public-private sector framework to enable formal, mutually beneficial information sharing. This will help establish a better understanding of the types of data valuable to the federal government and an approach to sharing meaningful data that is minimally burdensome to collect and analyze.
- Transparency, it is unclear how federal government utilizes and analyzes data. Private industry does not receive insights into the supply chain. Release federal government analyses on vulnerabilities, threats, and issues to enhance private-sector understanding of how data is used. So that industry partners can help ensure the availability of accurate, complete, realizable, relevant and timely data to identify trends for resilience.
- There is no technology-enabled platform to share data within the Supply Chain Control Tower (SCCT). The SCCT was established by HHS specifically for use during the COVID-19 pandemic that enabled a consolidated approach to data-sharing to monitor healthcare supply chain stability. Currently, requests are fielded by email and phone. Automated data-sharing to ensure consistent and timely flow of accurate supply-and-demand data necessitates the improvement of technology solutions, such as increased automation, streamlined processes, secure databases and staffing resources.
- Policies like The Sherman Antitrust Act and DOJ/FTC monitoring prohibit inter-company agreements that could facilitate data collaboration. Reduce or eliminate barriers to data-sharing by modifying existing antitrust regulations and federal practices.
- Lack of visibility into the entire supply chain inhibits effective risk monitoring and response to disruptions. Provide more comprehensive products on the entire supply chain to all partners and increase bidirectional flow of data. Direct engagement with industry when policies, programs and processes are set can help establish a shared alignment on inputs and critical products/supplies.
These recommendations will have the greatest impact if investments (time, funding, technology) are made during non-response periods, as preparedness is prerequisite to resilience. Data sharing leads to data illumination, the continuous process of highlighting and sharing specific information in a meaningful timeframe that can be used to take clear action, which enables resiliency planning and needs to be done consistently to be prepared for contingencies.
We recommend that organizations invest in understanding the full scope of their supply chains, including multi-tiered suppliers, maintenance, transportation, and technology solutions, and specifically what data is available and shared throughout the supply chain. Greater communication, collaboration and coordination between supply chain industry partners across all sectors at all times build resiliency. This contributes directly into the homeland security nexus and can be done effectively through collaboration across all stakeholders to avoid undue burdens and costs.
Together, we can bolster the nation’s supply chain and de-risk current supply chains and enhance America’s economic competitiveness.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected].