The Guthrie Clinic: Building a healthy supply chain
What began as a dedicated medical group in 1910, The Guthrie Clinic, now an entire health system known as Guthrie, has stamped its mark on northern Pennsylvania and southern New York with over a century of high quality care – but like any long-running business, Guthrie requires the occasional transformative update. Enter Grace Jackson, VP Procurement – Supply Chain for the business, who is perfectly placed as someone with a long history of roles in the medical business to take on this task.
On stepping into her role, Jackson set out to rethink, reshape, and restructure Guthrie’s supply chain. The goals: heightening efficiency, driving down costs, and improving customer care, all of which can be achieved through a combination of technological advancements, better processes, and the human touch.
The main stumbling block became apparent almost as soon as Jackson became involved just over a year ago; like most healthcare organizations, Guthrie was holding onto some legacy systems and outdated processes that required a full overhaul. Fortunately, Jackson and her team were prepared to tackle this issue.
“We had multiple disparate systems, manual processes, and a lot of status quo going on,” she explains. “We really needed to be able to raise the importance of the supply chain to a strategic level.”
Standardization is an ongoing project. “We have a lot of systems in place, but they’re not really integrated; they don’t talk to each other. So, we wanted to achieve a number of things in terms of automation and integration, better visibility with regards to business intelligence, and improved reporting across the organization.”
Jackson identified exactly what was needed, starting from the top down. Making management understand the importance of creating a supply chain strategy was a priority, before a vision could truly be defined and articulated. Guthrie now has this vision in place, with a series of goals specified, but a lot of ongoing work needs to be done.
“We want to use the technology as an enabler,” says Jackson. “We didn’t want to just go out and seek all the new technology and lay it on top of bad processes. There was a lot to do in terms of our operational performance and processes, taking the waste out of the system, and really trying to focus on those value-added services we’re providing. Then – and only then – can the technology be layered on top as an enabler.”
The challenge for Jackson and her team was the concept of doing business in a different way, and the accompanying change management required. The focus on improvement meant that the vision has stayed the course regardless, as Jackson continued to implement lean methodologies around the supply chain, and use evidence-based workflow on the clinical side to bring logistics and medicine together.
“We are certainly seeing improvements,” Jackson states. “We’ve been able to standardize across systems and across all our entities so that we’re following the same protocols as they relate to supply chain. For example, each of our entities had a separate process just for our equipment request process, using different forms – some manual, some automated – but now we’ve developed a committee where everybody is participating together and submitting requests through one executive-level team.”
Value analysis has also been a focus, looking not just at product pricing but at utilization and variation of care. This is where the evidence-based workflow comes in, feeding into the company’s ability to deliver quality care. It is vital for Guthrie that medical professionals are involved with this, says Jackson.
“You can’t do it without that collaboration. Historically we’ve looked at ourselves [in supply chain] as a support team – we’re here to support the clinicians and physicians. As part of this transformation, in rethinking our place in the business we’ve positioned ourselves not just as a support team, but equal partners. We have to work very closely with medical professionals to understand how they’re using the products and to understand how it ties to clinical outcomes.
“At first, their attitude was ‘Yes, we’re behind you,’ and I replied ‘I’d rather have you beside us’.”
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The strictly-regulated world of medical care means both high levels of control and strong, trustful relationships with partners. Jackson specifies that the vendors Guthrie utilizes must align with the company’s vision, as well as bringing their own value-added services.
Guthrie relies heavily on its partners, and some systems on this side of logistical operations are not yet integrated, making communication all the more important when it comes to acquiring the intelligence and analytics required to inform decisions.
“They must understand what their role is,” Jackson explains. “We can’t be working on goals that are misaligned.”
Jackson and Guthrie wouldn’t have the communication skills necessary to so effectively handle its partners if not for the people at the source – the company’s staff. The journey towards gaining the required level of skilled employees has run parallel to the transformation of the supply chain, and as the largest employer in the region, Guthrie invests heavily in local talent.
“We really had to come in and put together an entire strategy around people management and how we were going to attract, retain, and develop the talent available to us,” Jackson says. “Developing the talent includes getting the supply chain team we have in place on board with the new vision, and implementing the objectives and goals to manage their performance around that. It’s no longer about time in service, but about performance to the standard and the strategies in place.”
Short-term, Jackson and her team are in the midst of a three-year journey. That will, of course, evolve as healthcare and technology do the same, and the supply chain will alter accordingly. Integration continues, and eventually Guthrie will have all the technology resources to become self-sufficient without having to rely on third party services.
“We’ve made tremendous progress,” says Jackson. “What we want to do is expand nationally. Guthrie is known for the great services they provide, so being able to expand to other communities is really what we’re trying to accomplish. Before that, we need to improve our speed and lower costs; at that stage, we can grow.”
For as long as Jackson and her team are excited about the escalation of this project and the growth of the business, it’s sure to thrive. “We’re drawing people from all regions and it’s just tremendous what’s been accomplished in the last year,” she concludes. “If we continue at the pace we’re going, Guthrie will become a household name.”