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nurse's hand preparing an intravenous drip

Healthcare industry shortages continue to challenge our everyday lives

Experts predicted supply chain issues for 2022, but the sheer severity has come as a surprise to many. 

Supply Chain in its essence, is an unpredictable, complex process. Let’s break it down as simply as possible. Products reach consumers through a chain of companies involved, which typically includes manufacturers, logistics firms – who provide storage, distribution, and transport – and retailers. The whole system is highly complex.

However, being hit with several extraordinary circumstances, there have been many additional layers added to that complexity which have created unexpected issues in 2022, the most obvious being the unprecedented pressures on global supply chains created by the COVID pandemic. The subsequent series of lockdowns and restrictions, which have extreme variation in their timing and severity from country to country. Unfortunately, many of the most stringent lockdowns have been in countries affecting the manufacturing of medical supplies. 

These shortages in the supply chain have caused systemic challenges within the engines that support our everyday lives. The newest reported challenge in the healthcare sector involves supplies of IV contrast. Contrast, also known as a dye, is used daily in US hospitals for a multitude of purposes, from diagnosing and treating strokes to monitoring cancerous tumors. More than ten million injections of contrast are given in the United States each year.

While the healthcare industry remains overburdened and understaffed, the shortage of IV contrast throughout the US affects our ability to perform CT scans requiring an IV injection, forcing hospitals to ration supplies and doctors to prioritize patients. Healthcare providers are pivoting to help conserve contrast by using alternative scans and in some cases postponing non-emergency imaging studies.

The shortage of IV contrast started to develop within the healthcare industry in April 2022 and has since been followed by a recent shut down of offshore IV manufacturing companies due to strict COVID lockdowns. Eighty percent of production was lost, causing a six to eight-week backlog of needed IV contrast.

“The shortage situation appears to be nationwide, with normal production anticipated to resume by mid-June.”— Colin Milligan, Director of Media Relations, AHA.

Shortages related to heparin, 50% dextrose injection, diphenhydramine injection, and various local anesthetics are also an additional concern. Similar to other industries, there are unprecedented levels of congestion at the US ports, increased cost of freight, labor shortages, and increases in transportation costs, all contributing to the overall supply chain situation.

Hospitals and physicians are being encouraged to purchase supplies directly from the manufacturers instead of distributors. Innovative collaboration among health care organizations and their providers is paramount as the industry works through current supply chain issues in an already unstable environment.

Unfortunately, many economists are predicting that the era of predictable unpredictability in the supply chain, is not going away. So, we, the healthcare community will have to find the best solutions to deal with and effectively manage these challenges in the future.

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Susan Gatehouse, RHIT, CCS,CPC, AHIMA-Approved ICD-10-CM/PCS Trainer

Susan Gatehouse is the founder and chief executive officer of Axea Solutions. An industry expert in revenue cycle management, Gatehouse established Axea Solutions in 1998, and currently partners with healthcare organizations across the nation, to craft solutions for unique challenges in the dynamic world of healthcare reimbursement and data management.

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