Medical supply chains have endured a number of public health crises, from the HIV epidemic to viral outbreaks to substance abuse to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Our aging population is another troublesome situation medical supply chains must navigate.
The number of people who will be over the age of 65 will increase tremendously over the next few decades. These individuals may have advanced care needs, requiring the healthcare system to transform to accommodate them. And medical supply chains are directly involved in helping this happen.
The State of Our Aging Population
A demographic shift is happening in every country in the world. People are getting older and the amount of older individuals in the population will grow substantially in size and proportion.
1 in 6 people will be aged 60 or older come 2030, increasing to 1.4 billion people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization’s Ageing and Health 2022 report. As the population shifts to an older demographic, health and wellness become more core topics of conversation. While many older adults are in good health and take great care of themselves, millions of others navigate common health issues for people in their later years.
Fortunately, there are ways to help older adults be proactive and make empowered decisions about their healthcare. For instance, patient advocates can help them navigate the healthcare system. Aging adults can also make use of patient portals to communicate with providers, schedule appointments, and view test results.
Medical supply chains need to be fully prepared to support healthcare facilities and patients to successfully meet the future needs of our aging population.
The Critical Need to Forecast Demand
To meet the evolving medical needs of an aging population, supply chain businesses need to understand what older adults will need and how to best supply those products to them and the healthcare facilities that service them.
To adequately meet the needs of a primarily older population, those who are looking to procure medical supplies need to determine what medical products and how much of them these individuals will need. They must be prepared for the demand so that they can meet it. This makes the need to forecast demand accurately critical.
Let’s look at an example from the dentistry industry. According to a report by the CDC entitled Oral Health for Older Americans, it’s common for older adults to have missing teeth. Untreated tooth decay, gum disease, oral cancer, and chronic illnesses are standard reasons for the lack of good oral health in seniors. In addition, many don’t have health insurance and cannot afford to get the oral health care they need. Dentures, implants, and alternatives like partial dentures, overdentures, and bridges, are all available to older adults who need teeth replacement options.
But when we think about the transition we’re making to a much older population, the current supply of these products may not be enough for the future demand.
In this example, medical supply procurers would need to study their past data on the demand for teeth replacement options, looking for any periods that are similar to what is happening now. A thorough analysis of supplier data, inventory levels, transportation costs and other supply chain factors can help predict this need, and also help them anticipate scarcities in the future. They could also analyze data on our aging population and predictions from scientists and dental professionals on what we can expect with oral healthcare to make more informed decisions about the demand for teeth replacement products.
Harnessing the power of data will help medical supply chains accurately forecast demand for medical products in this shift to an older demographic in the population. They’ll also be able to optimize the efficiency of their operations and reduce costs moving forward.
Ultimately, the goal for many of those involved in the medical procurement industry is to ensure that they have the supplies they need to meet patient demand. However, it is difficult to forecast how the above factors will impact a supply chain as a whole. This is because many supply chains lack transparency. For this reason, much of the responsibility for resolving critical supply chain issues rests with the government itself.
The Government’s Role in Supply Chain Management
Because governments operate at a much higher level than many private entities – and because they often have access to knowledge that the private sector does not – governments play a unique role in alleviating supply chain problems. In fact, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, world governments should aim to “prevent risks… detect and anticipate crises… and prepare policy responses.”
For many nations, the COVID-19 pandemic was an unfortunate example of how fragile and rigid many supply chain systems are, as systems throughout the world stalled. This was especially apparent in the creation and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine itself. The inability to effectively distribute vaccines in some areas of the United States, and across the world, also proved to be an issue for many aging adults, who are considered at high risk of contracting the disease and were considered first-priority vaccine recipients.
In response to many of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Biden recently announced several actions designed to strengthen supply chains, including a special task force aimed at increasing resilience, initiatives to improve data sharing, and development of domestic manufacturing facilities for essential medical drugs.
As our population ages, medical supply chains will play a critical role in helping the healthcare industry ready itself for a transition in what kind and how they provide medical care and products. To prepare for this change will require cooperation from the public and private sectors.
About the author
Indiana Lee is a freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest, specializing in business operations, leadership, and marketing insights. Connect with her on LinkedIn.