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How COVID-19 Impacted the Healthcare Manufacturing Supply Chain

By Team Altus
Published Sep 21, 2020 | Updated Sep 19, 2022 | 5 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. Perhaps the industry that feels the impact the most, is the healthcare marketplace.

The healthcare manufacturing supply chain has seen major shifts resulting from the pandemic. From suppliers here in the U.S. to manufacturers across the globe, and even with specific products or regarding patient care—no area of the healthcare industry has been unscathed by the effects of COVID-19. Below we explore 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 market supply chain in nearly every country across the 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 items that medical workers need, 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.

After seeing how many issues hospitals are experiencing, there has been a higher focus than ever on “American-made” medical equipment, computer workstations, devices, and PPE. Special attention is being focused on restoring manufacturing 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 began to take hold of the United States, and anyone could see that a PPE shortage was ravaging the healthcare industry. Personal protective equipment (PPE), especially gowns, masks, and face shields, were—and still are—in incredibly high demand.

Hospitals were in search of a greater supply of PPE to protect their staff from COVID while helping their patients. In addition to hospitals, other facilities that had no need for them previously, such as nursing homes and therapy clinics, are now trying to purchase PPE in mass quantities to protect their staff as well.

The increased number of facilities trying to purchase PPE has increased the need for the equipment exponentially. In fact, PPE demand increased up to seventeen-fold, and this increase happened virtually overnight. With such a swift uptick in PPE needed, coupled with a worldwide shortage and broken supply chains, the Coronavirus pandemic has severely inhibited the amount of quality, 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 personal protective equipment. The entire world has felt the ramifications of this virus, and since then, the breaks in the supply chain in nearly every area of the healthcare industry are becoming more apparent. Included in this, is the pharmaceutical market.

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

Clinical trials halted

Public health has also been severely impacted by the ramifications of the global pandemic. Apart from the logistical impossibility of holding trials at previous trial sites, there has been a lack of patient enrollment, non-compliance with protocols, increased patient drop-out rates, and more obstacles to conducting safe, accurate clinical trials. Also, with about 20% of clinical trials being conducted in China, clinical trials are facing a hard time. This greatly impacts the information that could be used to better public health and make innovations in healthcare devices, equipment, and supplies.

Proactive stockpiling

Suppliers in the US have seen 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 now know the importance of proactively stockpiling their inventory. The alternative of a supply shortage means that patients don’t get the care and treatment they need. In the aftermath 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 that’s been said time and time again: unprecedented. It’s true. These times are unprecedented, and timelines have already been coined as “pre-COVID” and “post-COVID.” One thing is certain: healthcare will not be returning to the “old” way of doing things. 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, distributors, 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.

To keep from experiencing shortages in workstations, Altus has been manufacturing each computer cart and wall-mounted workstation in the US. Contact Altus to learn more about our efforts in combating supply chain shortages.

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