Medical device representatives aren’t logistics or supply chain experts. They were hired to build and manage relationships with their surgeon and hospital clients. Handling the logistics of inventory and equipment is critical to ensure a smooth and successful procedure – which protects the business. To achieve this, many reps quickly resort to customizing sets and hoarding inventory/equipment – even from their own manufacturers if they’ve been burnt by availability in the past.
That model can work out just fine at a local level with a good rep, but it doesn’t scale when they’re the only one who knows what’s needed but can’t be reached. Additionally, hoarding leads to a surplus of trays and implants in the hospital while the manufacturer manages a shortage on the other end.
Currently, this is a far cry from the intended model of vendor-managed inventory aka VMI (a business practice Wal-Mart did pretty well with) in which the manufacturer of a good is responsible for optimizing the inventory for the retailer (hospital for our purposes). Successful practice of VMI requires close collaboration between the manufacturer and hospital in sharing utilization data, demand forecasting, etc.
Manufacturers could take advantage of this intelligence to provide better, more reliable logistics support and inventory supply to their representatives. In turn, the reps can spend less time on logistics, and more building relationships to expand their reach.
The hospital stands to gain truly optimized, not bloated, inventory levels. Coordination with manufacturer-level logistics should reduce set variabilities to provide a more scalable system.
Most representatives are doing the best with the tools in front of them. Manufacturers and hospitals must lead the change they want to see, together.