Around 2015, Ravi Mehta, a professor at the University of Illinois, conducted six experiments with a co-author to determine how creativity thrives or changes under conditions of scarcity. The results showed that people are “more creative when they are forced to make the best of a situation, or to come up with alternative uses for objects with specific uses.” This is also a form of cognitive bias, or functional fixedness, which can cause a person to use an object only in a way they are accustomed to using it, affecting their ability to think outside the box. Once the pandemic hit in 2020, there was no way around it. Suppliers, manufacturers and health systems alike had to learn to think outside their normal parameters. People’s lives depended on it.
Efficiencies in supply chain, developed over the last few decades, will continue to thrive. Just-in-time processes have allowed things to be delivered to our door, on the day we need them. That’s how efficient we have become. And those efficiencies have saved money. But it is also clear that we’ve become entirely interdependent, as so many of those things we buy come from all over the world. We need to think strategically in a few ways:
We must find an intermediate approach right now—establishing a middle ground between JIT and on-hand inventory—so that if another crisis hits anywhere in the world, we are ready.
As health systems, manufacturers and distributors, a certain amount of product does need to be on hand in the future to meet potential crises, but we need to continue to look at the full rotation of product and develop a schedule, which allows products to be sent to organizations and outreaches while it’s still useful and usable.
Healthcare is no longer about what’s within the hospital walls. Rather than reacting to each individual case, we know that we are better when we look at entire communities—like in Costa Rica, as Atul Gawande writes—or even beyond our regions into a vastly interdependent global health system. Once we recognize that we are dependent on the health of other communities far from our own, our approach to healthcare and its critical supply chain will undoubtedly improve. A full circle and sustainable approach certainly won’t break the supply chain, rather it might just keep it moving in the right direction.