Speaking of Supply Chain

Marketing Your Supply ChainCurtis Lancaster
By Curtis Lancaster, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

I hear people tell of their experience at dinner during the holidays when they were young and lamenting the fact that even as they got older they were at the kid’s table. What is it that caused them to be recognized as adults and moved to the adult table?

I think the feeling of not being at the proper table even when you feel you are ready correlates with the feelings of supply chain leaders who desire to have a seat at the table in senior leadership. How do we as supply chain leaders make that leap? It’s a very frustrating time when we feel we are doing everything that we can to be recognized at a higher level only to be excluded. We do not want to be the best kept secret in the hospital but rather to be known for all of the value we provide. As a supply chain leader who had similar feelings and frustrations, I can relate my experience and how I have positioned my supply chain to be a more strategic partner at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH).

So how do we as supply chain leaders move to the big table? For me this came down to establishing a brand and marketing my supply chain.

Webster’s defines Marketing as “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service.” At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health we apply this definition daily as we get the word out about our supply chain services. We proactively market our Supply Chain for several reasons.

  • To foster engagement with our customers so that they know how we can help them deliver quality patient care on a daily basis.
  • To build awareness throughout the D-HH community that our services assist in directly influencing a significant amount of spend across diverse categories like supplies, drugs and purchased services.
  • To provide advanced information of changes to processes, supplies or vendors.
  • To maintain a strategic position with Sr. leadership so that Supply Chain sits at the table when making critical decisions. Marketing the Supply Chain gets us to the table.

We feel that marketing plays a crucial role in maintaining contact with our community. Our Supply Chain serves five D-HH hospitals, including an Academic Medical Center, as well as 13 affiliates through a contracting alliance. We operate in two states and have steadily increased in size over the past four years. We operate an NCI-designated cancer center, a regional air fleet, reference lab, specialty pharmacy business and significant telemedicine program. We participate in a national, regional, and geographically-focused group purchasing collaboratives. We are one of the founding members of the GreenHealth Exchange. We get the word out in several ways.

This year we created a Supply Chain Services Marketing Brochure. Authored and printed internally, the brochure sets the stage that we are thinking about Supply Chain differently. We know it’s unusual to advertise an internal service but it has helped our customers specifically and the D-HH community generally learn what we do, how we do it, and that we are here to serve them and our patients. We have used the brochure to speak to the supply chain processes – requisitioning, contracting, inventory management and logistics - and how they can help our customers get what they need. 

We also used the brochure to advertise to the D-HH community some of our priorities such as the ongoing rollout of our multi-year strategic plan. This has allowed us to emphasize the Supply Chain’s role in supporting the Mission and Vision of D-HH. We have also used the brochure to communicate our innovative initiatives that can get people excited about where we are headed. This includes incorporating best practices from outside of healthcare like demand planning, supplier resiliency mapping, and drones.

During the year, we conduct several retreats that review what we’ve done and where we are headed. The retreats include outside experts from a variety of industries providing audience members with their view as to where the healthcare supply chain is headed. At our last retreat, we continued to emphasize our role in patient care through our tagline ‘We Support the Hands that Heal’. To accomplish this, we ask Supply Chain staff to provide an overview of interesting initiatives they have been working on that connect to our strategy. Retreat participants include Supply Chain staff, D-HH leadership, outside speakers and internal customers. The internal customers have the opportunity to hear what we want them to hear about our supply chain and all walk away more informed and impressed.  The retreats provide a means for marketing to our staff, thereby giving them visibility and development opportunities, as well as a regular forum for letting customers know what we are up to.

There are other avenues you can use to market your Supply Chain and you should use the ones that make sense to you. Whether it is a retreat, through our monthly newsletters, your intranet site, or whatever method best reaches your customers and leadership. 

Here is what I recommend when you are thinking about marketing your Supply Chain:

  1. Have the mindset that your Supply Chain needs to be at the leadership table and marketing can get you there.
  2. Just do it. Initial efforts don’t have to be perfect, but you will benefit by getting the word out about what you do.
  3. In your marketing communications, emphasize how the Supply Chain supports the overall Mission and Vision of your hospital. It’s difficult to argue against Supply Chain’s place at the leadership table when you connect the dots between Supply Chain and patient care.
  4. Be a storyteller. Find a few key successes and turn them into Supply Chain lore. One example we have at D-HH is that we are storm watchers. We watch for weather and other possible disruptions and then tell the story of how we ‘saved’ the organization through our early detection and kept product continuity.

Welcome to the table, now please pass the ….

As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

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