Capstone Scientific on the State of Diagnostic LabsChristopher
Diagnostic laboratories across the country are facing unusual circumstances as a result of Covid-19. The supply and demand have changed, and many of our vendor partners and testing labs may be facing unusual challenges. Maintaining the right inventory and ensuring that the proper flow of supplies reaches the labs is important. Part of proper supply chain management means ensuring that labs maintain Lean strategies, an inventory management system pioneered by automotive giant Toyota and now employed by many different sectors. Automating much inventory and re-ordering tasks plays a pivotal role in the efficiency of labs.
For example, Mayo Clinic testing laboratories use a 5-S method in all the laboratories, to maintain the right level of supplies and protect the integrity of the supply chain. The process is Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. It helps diagnostic labs improve efficiency and create a smooth flow of material from submissions through results. Labs that work what vendors to improve the supply process tend to have an easier time handling increased demand, especially for covid testing.
There are a few key things that labs can do to improve the state of inventory and efficiency of testing. The first is ensuring that all processes across the supply chain are automated, which can help reduce the number of incorrect products and delayed payments. An electronic data interchange (EDI) method of communicating between the labs and their vendors helps remove human error from the process. This method also allows for more transparent order tracking using electronic documents that are compared with the product upon shipping from the vendor and arrival at the lab. Pricing from the vendor is validated, and any discrepancies are noted.
Keeping the supply chain continuum going, tracking the items once they arrive in the laboratory is important, too. Using scannable bar codes and an interface system is a key consideration in tracking the items from receipt to the different point of use areas. Labs in hospitals or other larger facility sites can use the same type of electronic tracing of the supplies, with unique designations for each product and destination. Electronically monitoring the distributing of the supplies and interfacing this with the overall inventory and par system reduces the risk of running out of certain supplies. This type of tacking scenario can also be combined with the ordering process, where the system automatically reorders from the vendor once a certain level is reached.
Developing more efficient tracing of supplies and including responsiveness from the vendor when levels are low can be cost-effective for labs, as well. Rhyan Walcott, Capstone Scientific’s Director of Operations, says “Over the past year, we have seen many of our partner laboratories face tough decisions while seeking alternatives for testing supplies that were relatively easy to purchase prior to March 2020. This change in the lab industry’s landscape has forced labs to do better forecasting and really take the time to project their logistical needs with the fluctuation of samples they anticipate receiving to stay ahead of the curve.” Many labs are seeing increased demand for testing for Covid-19, and therefore may by using more supplies than before. Vendors should be able to help labs better streamline their supply chain management and have flexible delivery and billing options. However, with a significant backlog of testing, many labs don’t have the time or capability of negotiating with their vendors. Therefore, a professional consulting firm may help labs better streamline supply chain management.
Every lab’s needs are different, but all can benefit from the professional supply chain consulting services that Capstone Scientific offers. This can help labs remove some of the cumbersome and complex aspects of procurement, inventory control, and management of the supply chain. Vendor negotiations are also important, and finding ones who have already been vetted for accuracy and competitive pricing is also part of the consulting process. Great vendor relationships can significantly improve the bottom line for many labs, plus the overall ability of the labs to complete testing in a timely manner.
Discounted pricing and order prioritization with a lab’s team of vendors is another benefit of professional consultation and supply chain management. With so many labs around the country facing significant backlogs due to the increase in testing for coronavirus, inefficiency can have a negative impact on overall public health.
In fact, backlogs are more common than ever before. Labs are facing not just a shortage of testing supplies, but also a lack of personnel trained to properly process the testing kits. With the creation of emergency testing labs by the FDA, many supply chain processes were disrupted. Adding more locations for testing and requiring more workers to complete these tests may have resulted in significant hurdles to producing timely and accurate results. Even more, with thousands of people receiving the Covid-19 vaccine daily, labs are still experiencing a backlog of testing.
There are several stages of testing and supply collection, each of which can have bottlenecks. These stages start with sample collection and then go through delivery logistics, test execution, data management, and the testing capacity of each site. Lack of supplies affects each of these. For example, without the swab for sample collection, important segments of the population, including health care workers and other essential service workers, may have remained untested. Manufacturers have responded by increasing production, but getting the necessary supplies from point A to point B is an important next step.
Supply shortages don’t just affect people waiting for a diagnosis of the coronavirus. Other types of laboratory testing are also delayed, as many tests use the same kind of materials. For example, in January of 2021, more than 35% of labs experienced a backlog for testing different sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Other types of testing that have been impacted as a result of supply shortages include tuberculosis testing, testing of different fungal infections, and other types of blood tests.
Therefore, the importance of having the right supply chain management cannot be overstated. The testing capacity of labs around the world is still below the demand, but making sure that waste is reduced can help improve the backlog. Waste can include over-ordering certain supplies, or having an overly cumbersome system, making ordering challenge. Manually inventory, instead of electronic, takes time, and can also be more prone to error.