05/16/18

Innovative technology is expanding the paradigm of possibility across medicine. Almost daily, new products enter the marketplace with claims of improving patient care. This flood of “innovation” challenges supply chain professionals to identify and evaluate those that truly offer tangible benefits for patients and clinicians.

Olya Carter, RN, senior clinical manager of the Innovative Technology Program at Vizient, has a unique appreciation for the volume of products touting innovation.

“The Vizient Innovative Technology Program has more than 100 products each year come through for innovative technology reviews. There is a lot going on in biologic tissues and organ donation as well as in the cardiovascular space. Some of these are new devices and new approaches to doing procedures and other products are tweaks to older technologies. Each requires a credible amount of research to determine if it offers an incremental benefit when compared to other products on the market."

With each product considered by an organization, Carter suggests making it a goal to find those that hit the innovation sweet spot—maximum impact for the patient with minimal distraction for the physicians and clinicians who use it. Finding this sweet spot requires informed decision-making. Carter offers a few best practices, which can help supply chain leaders who manage the evaluation process in their organizations.

“First, define what innovative technology is for your organization. Two, gather input and analyze evidence using a cross-functional team; and three, if the cost-benefit ratio supports adopting or switching to a technology, what logistics must be considered?” said Carter.  

Define innovative technology

How an individual health system defines innovative technology will determine how it weighs the potential benefits offered by the product. Some standard benchmarks provide guidance, however.

“The proposed technology has to have some unique feature. That’s the obvious criteria, and it’s usually an easy one to meet,” Carter said. “What’s more difficult to determine is whether that unique feature translates into an actual benefit.”

Clinical benefits could include improved patient outcomes, fewer complications, fewer hospital-acquired conditions or lower readmission rates. Operationally, there may be potential financial benefits such as improved throughput or more effective use of resources.

Having an approved definition allows more technologies to move through the review pipeline – a critical efficiency given the quantity of products for review.

Establish a cross-functional team

Some technologies will require a simple checklist review. More complex or involved technology will require closer examination and vetting by your value analysis team. This group most often includes supply chain, clinicians (physicians and nursing), pharmacy, laboratory and executive leadership.

Vizient reviews innovative technology using subject matter experts with significant applicable experience from member health care organizations across the U.S. “These experts are key to our review process and contracting decisions,” Carter said.

One example was the Vizient pediatric council. They reviewed a new electrode for use in monitoring vital signs of premature babies. The proposed electrode featured an innovative adhesive that the supplier claimed would stay adhered to the baby’s skin, even in the high heat and humidity of a neonatal incubator. Following the review, the pediatric council members trialed the new electrode in a few facilities and found that it worked as promised.

“The new electrode meant providers weren’t going to change how they did things,” Carter said. “The babies were still placed in the same incubators, and monitored in the same way. The NICU just went to a different electrode that allowed them to decrease the number of alarms and ensure the best outcome for patients and providers. This small change provided a powerful impact and was in the center of the innovation sweet spot.”

In the best-practice category, Carter stressed the importance of critically weighing evidence, as the Vizient pediatric council did. From experience, Carter advises tapping the experts on the value analysis team to examine the evidence. With several players in a particular product category, it’s not unusual for a supplier to present its evidence — however in-depth and informative — as proof that its solution is superior.

 “There are suppliers who have great stories but no evidence, and then there is the other extreme: the supplier who has a great story and a massive amount of evidence,” Carter said. “In the latter case, someone who has the knowledge and experience should go through the evidence, which can be make-or-break for implementing an innovative technology.”

 “When we look at the control groups they’ve compared their product to, sometimes we find it’s not always a competitive product. Sometimes it’s not even in the same product category,” Carter said. “So the evidence, although on the surface shows that, yes, the solution is different and offers incremental benefits, when you look a little bit deeper, it doesn’t really demonstrate that conclusion.”

Implement new technology

Part of the cost-benefit analysis should include logistics: What will it take to convert from a current practice or product to this new one?

“I think this is one of the places where Vizient can be of assistance. In fact, the goal of our program is to make accessibility to innovative technology easier for the hospitals,” said Carter. “Health care organizations of course can purchase innovative solutions any time, but once the innovative technologies are identified through our program, we put them on contract. We negotiate favorable terms and conditions and market-leading pricing, and make it available on a national agreement for all of our member hospitals and non-acute facilities. That’s what we do well, and then it’s really up to the individual hospital to see whether the product fits the needs of their clinicians and patients.”

Carter also encourages supply chain leaders and clinicians to consider attending the Innovative Technology Exchange, which will be held on Thursday, Oct. 4, as a part of the Vizient Connections Summits in Las Vegas. “This event encompasses all of the different disciplines, so you get to see the spectrum of innovation all in one place. Members come to the event and make their own list of the products that they want to evaluate. Considering solutions on Vizient contracts can make implementation faster and more straightforward at their facility.”

Additionally, products on contract that are determined to be innovative technology have a unique designation in the online catalog, making them easier to find. Or, search for “innovative technology solutions” using the new search feature in the contract catalog to see the complete list of products.

For more information about the Vizient Innovative Technology Program, click here.