Supply Chain Problems Hinder Patient Care

The availability of medical supplies directly impacts patient outcomes.

According to a recent article in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing, central line bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) increased three-fold during the 2021-2022 fiscal year compared to previous years on a children’s pediatric intensive care unit at a rural children’s hospital in the United States.

“We were doing our best to care for fragile children, but it grew more challenging to keep our patients safe each day because of the lack of supplies,” said a nurse who works on the unit. 

Medical Equipment in Short Supply

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has maintained a device shortage list since 2020.  As of July 19, 2022, devices in short supply include:

  • Automated external defibrillators (AEDs)
  • Chest drains and suction canisters
  • Pre-filled saline flush syringes
  • Blood specimen collection tubes
  • Renal dialysis-related products
  • Ventilators and ventilator-associated products

The United States (and other countries) are also experiencing shortages of some pharmaceuticals, including:

  • 10% dextrose injection (a commonly used IV solution)
  • Lidocaine hydrochloride topical jelly (a numbing agent)
  • 0.9% sodium chloride irrigation (saline)

IV contrast dye, frequently used during CT imaging, also remains in short supply. 

Lack of Supplies Affects Healthcare Providers’ Ability to Provide Care

Without easy access to necessary supplies, healthcare providers are forced to improvise and adapt. 

The staff on the unit described in the Pediatric Journal of Nursing article substituted unfamiliar brands of supplies as needed, but “the change in supplies required further education of staff,” and some substitutes were less comfortable and convenient for patients. 

“It took more time to perfect the usage of these materials, and yet still, some of the materials caused injuries to our patients’ frail skin,” one nurse said. 

When regular supplies are not available, healthcare providers must spend valuable time searching for equipment. According to a May 2022 Forbes article, Lori Lee, senior vice president of clinical operations at Yale New Haven Health, “resorted to having her team of doctors and nurses search for substitutes,” which also requires additional staff training to prepare providers to use unfamiliar equipment. 

Some experts believe that supply shortages – particularly shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) early in the pandemic – contributed to physician and nurse burnout and resignations. 

Supply Shortages Expected to Persist into 2023

While PPE shortages have mostly resolved, supply chain disruptions are expected to affect the availability of medical supplies well into 2023. Hospitals and healthcare organizations will need to continue careful management and stewardship of available supplies while also exploring alternatives. 

Keeping tabs on your inventory and building a stockpile of supplies that may be affected can help organizations prepare for a shortage. It’s also a good idea to research suitable products that can be substituted for those that are in short supply. Legwork now will help organizations avoid a reactive response that may be met with limited options.

Improving clinical workflows can also ease pressure on the supply chain, as efficient workflows decrease the likelihood of redundant care. 

Efficient Use of Available Supplies Can Improve Efficiency and Outcomes

Clinical staff often deal with product shortages by bargaining and trading supplies between units. They know it’s not a sustainable solution, but they do what’s needed in the moment to meet immediate patient needs.

In their article describing how supply chain failures affect pediatric nurses and their patients, Karen Goldschimidt, PhD, MSN, RN and Kelsey Stasko, BSN, RN, write, “Imagine a system within an organization that permits the bedside nurse to view what supplies and equipment are available and where they are in the hospital.” Such a system, they say, “would end units’ hoarding supplies, and...may work for the entire system and benefit patients.”

The SwipeSense Asset Tracking system can help healthcare providers pinpoint needed supplies almost instantaneously. Real-Time Location System (RTLS) tags can be attached to AEDs, ventilators, and more. The tags electronically communicate with the location hub network, so staff can search for supplies via a computerized dashboard and immediately see where necessary equipment is located. Hospital leaders can also easily monitor inventory. 

Asset tracking can improve clinical efficiency and patient outcomes while helping staff cope with product shortages.