by Michele Tracy, MM, CPM
Senior Consultant, Supply Chain Operations

You probably don’t have to be a sports fan to know about the rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. When the Red Sox made the regrettable decision to sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, it was the beginning of a long and intensely fierce clash that exists to this day. And, what about the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys? It’s more than 150 years old and has been the topic of television shows, movies and music.

In the hospital setting, it’s not uncommon to find differing opinions between supply chain and nursing. When nursing sees that products aren’t in stock, aren’t available, or there’s not enough of what they need to take care of their patients, their frustration leads to a lack of confidence in the supply chain department. Supply chain may view nursing as demanding, unappreciative and that they don’t understand supply chain processes or procedures.

Daniel Goleman, author of the 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, notes how both emotion and intellect can work together to strengthen our health, our relationships and our work, stating, “Emotional Intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, value and effectively apply the power of emotions as a source of human energy, information, trust, creativity and influence.”

In his book, Goleman also includes five categories of emotional intelligence: self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability and innovation. With these in mind, here are three things that supply chain professionals can implement right now to improve clinician relationships and perceptions:

  1. Conduct detailed Voice of the Customer interviews with clinical leadership and staff. These brief (15 to 30 minutes) interviews help supply chain better understand the good, the bad and the ugly that clinical staff experience. Relevant themes and topics can be more easily identified as patterns begin to emerge. Document all action items, a date when they will be corrected, and who is responsible for communicating the corrective action to supply chain staff.
  1. Establish a regular supply chain rounding routine. Create a schedule and consistently round with supply chain staff to all clinical areas to learn what’s working well and where supply chain can improve. Having a regular presence on the different units can increase personal engagement, build teamwork and improve service. Effective listening to nursing’s concerns and putting action plans in place to correct issues immediately go a long way in building or improving relationships with clinicians.
  1. Request time on clinical leadership staff meeting agendas to reiterate the supply chain team’s philosophy on customer service, share VOC interview feedback and discuss next steps. Follow up on all outstanding challenges and issues quickly. Consistently displaying conscientiousness and integrity to correct issues will increase the overall credibility of the supply chain department.

Inevitably, things will go wrong. Backorders, substitutions and stock outs are all real issues that supply chain professionals deal with on a daily basis. How they manage, communicate and adapt to these issues helps build credibility. The supply chain’s ability to regularly review feedback, identify areas for improvement, and make the specific changes necessary will help create loyalty, sincerity and competence between the two teams.

I believe wholeheartedly that the nursing staff is supply chain’s most important internal customer. Giving clinicians time to focus on the patient strengthens the core value proposition of the supply chain, and ultimately, it's the patient who benefits when emotions and intellect work together to implement a well-structured and thoughtful process.

About the author. A senior consultant on the supply chain operations team at Vizient, Michele Tracy has more than 20 years of health care and manufacturing experience, specializing in such areas as materials management, value analysis and GPO contracting. She has held leadership positions at mid-size health care organizations with multisite systems and possesses a keen understanding of consultative services related to supply and equipment management issues in the areas of surgical services and warehouse operations.