“The pandemic made everything about value. I believe that all healthcare premises – along with insurance systems and the patients themselves – became much more focused on the concept of value.”
The world has absorbed an unbelievable amount of change over the last few years. And while most of us are glad to have gotten past constant conversations about the pandemic, I was recently glad for the opportunity to consider its effects again.
I had the opportunity to interview Heba Farouk, the Chief Supply Chain Officer for Saudi German Health. This conversation is long overdue as one of our first podcasts featuring a practitioner executive based in the Middle East.
We all know (conceptually at least) what the healthcare industry experienced during the pandemic. But when I think of healthcare, I think about doctors, nurses, and administrators. I don’t necessarily think about how procurement and supply chains teams that support healthcare organizations were affected as well.
There is a lot more to that story than I realized.
Resilience Plus Agility
As Heba told me, “Resilience is how you change, how you are going to act, how you recover quickly. Agility is how to change according to the conditions, how you adapt. You don’t have time. It has to happen now. You have to care now. There are no injections. There are no ventilators. There are no supplies. We cannot provide medication. How are we going to do it? It has to be done.”
Procurement has aspired to become more resilient and agile for a long time, but I think ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ in this case. There are some things that you can’t test and some skills you can’t develop without having to live through adverse conditions.
There were plenty of stock outages and supply chain disruptions across industries, but few had the same level of potential consequences as what Heba described in her conversation. Listening to her talk about healthcare procurement, you would think she was part of the medical staff. Her concern about supplies and medications was personal, firsthand. It was not the view of someone looking at spreadsheets detailing the number of syringes or the amount of antibiotic that is available.
In fact she spoke to that exact point. Everyone in her organization came together, regardless of their role of functional affiliation, and aligned with one goal: exceptional patient care. Doing so allowed them to move mountains, and it required dedicated participation by every member of the staff. She even spoke about facility based staff feeling a calling and wanting to do what they could to help.
“When you are speaking about someone who works in housekeeping or as a security guard, they used to see themselves as a housekeeping person or security guard. But after the pandemic, they felt they were providing a very important thing,” she said. “They felt the value and it was reflected afterwards in the way they were doing their job. They were coming to work early in the morning.”
Clearly there was a very special level of cooperation happening – you might even call it transformation.
Resisting the Urge to Assign Blame
Lots of mistakes were made in those foggy days of the pandemic. Living and working conditions were so unprecedented that taking action was more important than being perfect.
Procurement can learn from this. We can’t allow perfect to be the enemy of good, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy way to work.
Sometimes we blame ourselves for shortages and other things that we have no control over. They are not procurement’s fault, but we blame ourselves because we are the person that’s responsible for buying whatever product is in short supply. We might hold ourselves responsible for continuing to conditions where a shortage could even happen.
What really matters is how we dig ourselves out of a situation. Managing that with calmness should breed confidence within the rest of the organization. Staying calm positions procurement as a team that people can go to for help addressing a crisis.
Thriving in the Aftermath
Supplies were so scarce during the pandemic that it changed everyone’s expectations and mindset about the sourcing and purchasing process. Conversations that would have been about cost in the past shifted to be about value.
Doctors can be notoriously fixed about what they need and where they need it from. In the past, this might have led to a kind of standoff between them and procurement. The scarcity brought on by the pandemic forced so many of those conversations that they became a healthy ongoing dialog.
Heba shared an example of how her team might work with a doctor to balance the decision about what is needed in each case. “They are now saying, ‘For this kind of medication, it doesn’t have to be the brand. The generic will work fine. But for this specific procedure – I’m sorry, Heba – it has to be the brand. This is the best. It’s a very precise thing.’ We go for it.”
“There is a trust language between us now. When they ask for something – a specific preference at a very expensive price – we trust them and get it if it’s justified technically and medically. In return, they support us in many other things. This exercise is still ongoing. I believe it’s going to be our way forever.”
It is wonderful to be able to put the pandemic behind us, but there are some changes we should work to preserve. Improved listening, active cooperation, and perfect alignment about what is important are key to success.
The challenge for procurement and healthcare supply chain is how to remain relevant now that the pressure has dissipated a little bit. How will those roles and relationships change now that the doctors, surgeons, CEOs, and CFOs are pivoting back to growth. That is the true opportunity for procurement to prove their agility and resilience… shedding the burdens of the pandemic without forgetting what we learned.
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