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How COVID-19 Impacted the Healthcare Manufacturing Supply Chain

By Sarah Leitz | Published Sep 21, 2020 | 7 min read

Since January 15, 2020, when the Coronavirus first made its way onto US soil, life has never been the same. This is true across all industries, concerning careers and relationships, and, of course, its impacts are felt in the healthcare marketplace.

The healthcare manufacturing supply chain has seen major shifts resulting from the pandemic. From suppliers here in the US, manufacturers across the globe, with specific products or regarding patient care—no area of the healthcare industry has been unscathed by the effects of COVID-19. Below we’ve explored a few of the most significant ways supply chains have been affected and how the industry is looking forward in the midst of a global pandemic.

A Global Impact

Unlike viruses and epidemics of the past, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the healthcare marketing supply chain in nearly every country across the entire globe. Typically, when disaster strikes, there are workarounds that the healthcare industry can take advantage of to get the supplies and products they need.

But with the Coronavirus and its widespread reach, every healthcare manufacturing supply chain has been affected—if not totally broken. Healthcare systems aren’t merely having trouble getting products from the source to the final destination. The issue is much deeper than that. There is a global shortage of many items that medical workers need, yes. But because the risk of cross contamination is so high with this specific virus, having items shipped from across the world—or even across state and country lines—can be problematic. Everything from production to shipping to supply has been affected, throwing the healthcare manufacturing supply chain off balance and, in some cases, shutting it down completely.

Because of this, there is a higher focus than ever on “American made” medical equipment, devices, and PPE. Special attention is being focused on restoring manufacturing here in the US to alleviate supply chain issues within the healthcare industry.

PPE Demand is Higher than Ever

One glance at the news cycle, especially as the pandemic really began to take hold of the United States, and anyone could see that a PPE shortage was ravaging the healthcare industry. Personal protective equipment, especially gowns, masks, and face shields, were—and still are—in incredibly high demand. Not only was a greater supply of PPE needed to protect doctors, nurses, and staff treating COVID patients, but facilities who in the past had not used great quantities of PPE were using it to protect both patients and providers—think nursing homes, therapy clinics, etc.

In fact, some studies show that PPE demand increased up to seventeen-fold, and this increase happened virtually overnight. With such a swift uptick in PPE need coupled with a worldwide shortage and broken supply chains, the Coronavirus pandemic has severely inhibited the amount of quality, safe, and effective PPE in healthcare facilities across the United States as well as the rest of the world.

Pharmaceutical Supply Vulnerability

The sectors of the healthcare industry affected by COVD-19 don’t stop at virus-related products or devices. Because the entire world has felt the ramifications of this virus, we are seeing breaks in the supply chain in nearly every area of the healthcare industry, including our pharmaceutical market.

Here in the United States, we source about 72 percent of our active pharmaceutical ingredients from foreign markets. China and India, two powerhouse contributors to the US drug market, lead the world in exports of generic drugs, which make up about 90 percent of medicines taken by Americans. This makes the stability of the US pharmaceutical market vulnerable, especially when suppliers like India and China see sudden drops in their production numbers due to COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns.

Clinical Trials Halted

Public health is severely impacted by the ramifications of the global pandemic. About 20 percent of clinical trials are conducted in China. Apart from the logistical impossibility of holding trials at previous trial sites, there has been a lack of patient enrollment, non-compliance of protocols, increased patient drop-out rates, and more obstacles to conducting safe, accurate clinical trials. And this greatly impacts the information we have to better public health and make innovations in healthcare devices, equipment, and supplies.

Proactive Stockpiling

Suppliers here in the US have seen just how quickly the healthcare supply chain can be overwhelmed and ravaged. As a result of the impact the Coronavirus pandemic has had on supply and demand, companies see the importance of proactively stockpiling their inventory. The alternative, a supply shortage, means that patients don’t get the care they need. Because of COVID-19, businesses are examining ways to pursue digital technology, visibility, or automation so severe shortages don’t happen again.

Finding a New Normal

There’s one word we’ve been hearing a lot—and one you’re probably tired of at this point: unprecedented. But it’s true. These times are unprecedented, and we’re already marking timelines with the phrases “pre-COVID” and “post-COVID.” One thing is certain: we won’t soon return to the old way of doing things, especially not in healthcare. COVID-19 has forced the industry to find a new normal.

This plays out through supply sourcing and finding stronger, more collaborative relationships between manufacturers, distributers, suppliers, and providers. Supply chains must include the manufacturing and provision of trusted, safe, and quality products. And in an age where these chains are broken, future demand must be calculated before needs are felt. Patient experience, workflows, and even the ways and rates at which we use medical devices, equipment, and PPE is changing. As a result, providers must think out of the box to evaluate current needs and predict their needs moving forward.

Conclusion

The modern healthcare industry has never seen anything quite like COVID-19. But the industry leaders, suppliers, and medical workers fighting through this pandemic are innovating daily to ensure that patients are cared for quickly and effectively. Despite what the virus has done to the healthcare manufacturing supply chains here in the US and globally, the industry as a whole is working so that shortages and breaks in supply are addressed and remedied.

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