Supply chain shortages make securing the goods people need and want tremendously difficult. Sometimes, such issues cause mere annoyances or mean consumers must wait longer for non-essential items. But, in the case of the lab equipment shortage, the supply chain crunch directly affects patient care and diagnostics.
Shortages Cause Managers to Create New Guidelines
There’s a shortage of contrast media used in cath labs to run various tests related to the heart’s arteries. Many hospital decision-makers opted to delay cardiac procedures due to a lack of supplies. However, at one Ohio hospital system, leaders created a list of seven new guidelines to help staff through this challenging time while conserving available resources. They also pledged not to delay any catheterization procedures.
The leaders decided to do so based on earlier evidence gathered during the COVID-19 pandemic that showed delays in heart-related procedures caused poor patient outcomes. For example, many presented with their condition at a more advanced stage because lab tests did not confirm it earlier.
Some new protocols included putting contrast dye in smaller vials to reduce waste, closely monitoring the amount of dye used for each procedure and exploring other diagnostic methods that don’t need contrast dye when possible. These changes caused an average 46% reduction in the dye used per cath lab procedure.
This example shows the power of making strategic decisions when under pressure. However, not every hospital can commit to such changes, notably since resources and patient care needs differ at every facility.
Vendor Communication Is Critical for Reducing the Lab Equipment Shortage
In the summer of 2021, the University of Wisconsin-Madison published advice for people struggling with a lack of necessary supplies across campus labs. The content acknowledged that — in addition to out-of-stock items — people trying to purchase what they need encountered longer lead times, differences in volume requirements and elevated prices.
Some advice the university’s purchasing department gave was to get orders in early and follow up on them until delivery happens. Moreover, people should be aware brand-name items are in the shortest supply and it may be appropriate to consider alternatives.
The university’s procurement specialists recommended that affected parties contact vendors directly to explain their needs. Some original equipment manufacturers can provide suggestions of third parties who can deliver items comparable to the things they’re out of. Vendor communications can inform people of avenues they might not have previously known.
For example, it’s useful to think about getting used lab equipment when possible and it’s beyond the point of significant depreciation. That means it will hold its value for several years of use. People pursuing this route can also work with vendors that put used products through a robust process that ranges from testing to complete refurbishment.
Blood Tube Shortages Necessitate Creative Thinking
Public health researchers understand the connection between community and individual health. If people don’t get tested promptly when health professionals suspect they may have contagious diseases, any delays could cause local outbreaks. A 2021 study showed that 35.1% of labs lacked the supplies to test for sexually transmitted infections. Additionally, 29.4% did not have enough resources to do mycobacteria testing, including for tuberculosis.
The lab equipment shortage can also extend to essential resources, such as the recent challenges in procuring blood collection tubes. In March 2022, medical practitioners in Canada received instructions to avoid ordering non-essential tests. The country’s labs also lacked other goods like syringes and needles.
Teams at Toronto’s Unity Health deployed various strategies to cope with the blood tube shortage. For starters, they improved the functionality of the electronic health record system that allows a doctor to request an add-on test. In such cases, two results come from the same tube of blood, which tackles the supply shortage and eliminates the inconvenience of a second blood draw for the patient.
The Unity Health staff also began sourcing blood tube alternatives. However, doing that involved running hundreds of validation tests to ensure the new products function as well as the old ones. Clinical and laboratory teams collaborated with data scientists at Unity Health as well. The shared work created a tracking dashboard that shows usage behaviors and helps people quickly identify which tube types are in highest demand.
The widespread lab equipment shortage requires people to focus on a common goal and think outside the box to relieve ongoing pressures. When lab workers and other teams pool their knowledge and become willing to do things differently, many supply obstacles become easier to navigate.
Lab Shortages Require a Problem-Solving Mindset
The lab equipment shortage is a complex matter with multiple factors driving it. Many experts agree it likely won’t resolve anytime soon and they recommend affected people enact comprehensive plans to deal with it. The examples here highlight some routes laboratory staff members have taken so far, but they’re only a sampling of the possible solutions.
Others include using artificial intelligence algorithms to become more aware of supply chain issues before they can cause significant problems or encouraging sharing supplies across different laboratories and departments when possible.
The main thing to remember is that there’s no universal solution to solve any supply chain shortages. Differences exist in which products are most in-demand and the resources an organization has to conquer challenges as they arise.
About the author
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over four years experience covering stories about warehousing, logistics and distribution