When the Nation’s Medical Supply Chain Faltered, This Software Firm Stepped Into the Fray

June 5, 2020 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – If you wanted to have a front row seat to a global viral pandemic, you probably couldn’t have been in a better position to do so than Keith Herron was three months ago.

The company he’d worked at for seven years as a software solutions designer had just been purchased by Infor, a global company that builds software cloud products for a wide range of industries, including retail, manufacturing and healthcare.

When not enmeshed with technology as Infor, a Koch Industries company, focuses on solution strategy director for location-based intelligence, Herron continued to work part-time as an emergency medical physician assistant at the Sentara RMH Medical Center outside Charlottesville, Va.

“What I remember most from right before the pandemic, is being in the emergency department in which I work and seeing our typical large volume of patients every day,” Herron said.

“That time of year, it wasn’t unusual to be caring for a lot of patients with flu-like symptoms, but we soon became aware of the fact something was going on that was very different from the flu itself,” he said.

Melissa Amell, Infor’s healthcare strategy director for supply chain solutions, saw a similar, abrupt upheaval. One day she was providing software support to existing clients while demonstrating Infor’s innovative products for new ones. The next thing she knew, it was all hands on deck.

The challenge for her, Herron and all of the healthcare strategy team overseen by Matt Wilson, Infor’s senior vice president: how to literally “save” the medical supply chain hospitals across the country depended on to save lives.

“We all expect health care workers to be there for us, our families and loved ones,” Wilson later said in a post on the company’s website. “So, there was a duty and responsibility for me personally. If I’m assuming and hoping that these people will save my life, what am I doing to help them? And I think for a lot of folks on the team, this is something substantial that we could do to help.”

A Supply Chain Collapses

Drawing upon knowledge from clinicians already battling COVID-19 and from team members like Herron, with backgrounds in frontline health care, one critical need rose to the top — the need for accurate tracking of supplies, specifically the dwindling supply of personal protective equipment health care workers rely on to safely treat patients.

The new pandemic called for a new solution — a new software dashboard that would make PPE supply data quickly accessible. And as Amell told The Well News recently, it needed it fast.

“There are many layers of complexity within the healthcare supply chain, and I think ultimately what the pandemic did was expose the weaknesses associated with many of them,” she said.

“Demand completely overwhelmed everything else in those early weeks. Everybody was competing for the same volume of product,” Amell continued. “And everything we were seeing was compounded by the fact many of these products, gloves, gowns and surgical masks, are made overseas.

“So you had this huge demand spike, and the supply chain could not handle the demand spike,” she said. “People in the industry were competing against each other for limited supplies, people outside the industry were buying health care grade products for their own use, and then you had third parties entering into the market — and at the same time, you had people in the factories making these products getting sick and being unable to work.”

Rising to the Challenge

“Ultimately, the whole PPE supply chain simply broke down. … the demand was just too much for the infrastructure to handle,” Amell concluded.

Infor’s team was unbowed. As Wilson well knew, the strength of his team was its diversity of expertise and talents.

“Our leadership pulled together a team of subject matter experts to look at ways we could address the issues at hand and contribute to addressing the shortcomings we were hearing about from our clients and from the news,” Herron said. “Very quickly, two or three major routes emerged. One of them being supply chain management, another involving contact tracing.”

Within a week, and with extensive input from Infor’s clients, they had designed and developed a brand-new software dashboard, providing faster, sharper insights into crucial supply levels for hospitals across the country.

Better, the new dashboard streamlined updates to emergency hospitals and government preparedness programs, and it was easy to use — frontline health care professionals needed only to log in and critical PPE supply information was at their fingertips.

By week two, the Infor team was testing the new dashboard and running it through its paces. Just days after that, the Infor team pushed the brand-new dashboard to Infor’s CloudSuite products.

With a customer base accounting for roughly 30% of all American healthcare providers, and with 85% of labs testing for COVID-19 counting on Infor software, the Infor team ensured it was prepared to support strained hospitals facing an influx of patients.

Infor’s teams stayed connected with clinicians to provide prompt answers to questions about using the new dashboard and data reports.

Feedback from those partners is also helping Infor’s developers work on new iterations and services that unite data and health care to provide better treatment and ultimately save lives, Amell said.

Infor’s efforts haven’t stopped there.

Locating Patients, Equipment, in Real Time

Knowing and tracking who has the virus and who those people may have encountered is another critical piece of hospitals’ response to COVID-19. This is called contact tracing, and several large health care institutions across the U.S. are already doing it using Infor’s Location-Based Intelligence Platform.

With time at a premium, real-time data sent via patients’ wristbands, clinicians’ badges, and tags on medical equipment enable providers to see interactions and surface contacts within the hospital. If a patient tests positive, providers can take immediate containment steps in the facility — notifying, screening, isolating, and treating — to minimize further exposure.

This real-time contact tracing can also help providers reduce waiting time, minimizing potential spread among frontline workers and patients.

“If you’re unfamiliar with real-time locating, basically it comes down to utilizing hardware installed within the facility to create an infrastructure for identifying the exact location of any item you’ve put a badge on,” Herron said.

“This allows you to locate equipment efficiently and quickly distribute it to where it’s needed,” he said.

Told he was making each breakthrough sound almost easy to implement, Herron explained it was nothing of the kind.

“Part of the challenge to all this was that a typical implementation of our software into an emergency department in a hospital can take three to six months,” he said. “So the first hurdle we had to overcome was setting up a design that would allow us to implement it within a matter of days … a couple of weeks at most.

“The other challenge of course, is trying to acquire additional hardware that may be needed. The hardware itself takes a little while to source and install and test to make sure it’s operational and providing you with accurate data. So that would be the other challenge we had to deal with — you need to have a specialized hardware within the facility that can identify the location of things you’re putting badges on.”

To streamline the process, Infor worked with its clients to find ways to implement its software into the hardware infrastructure that was already in place.

“Once we had a solution, the goal was always how do we accelerate getting this solution in place so that it could be of immediate benefit,” Herron said.

“I mean, it was the health care companies, really the vendors … they really stepped up and it wasn’t really about competition anymore. I mean, we really were sharing information in order to … help with this issue. So those were some of the positive things. And I think you will see partnerships and collaborations happening that likely wouldn’t have happened without this kind of event.”

Though she hasn’t had much time to reflect, Amell said she does believe some positive changes to the healthcare supply chain will come out of the pandemic experience.

“When you think of the disasters we normally deal with, they are isolated events to a certain extent — hurricanes, a tornado, and other disasters in one geographical area… this was worldwide. Everything happened at once, and I think people will have this in mind as they plan their policies and procedures for the future,” she said.

“Personally, I think you’re going to see people taking another look at what they have been doing, especially when it comes to handling critical items and pandemic supplies,” she said. “I think you will also see people taking a close look at their distribution strategy. In order to be more proactive and predictive in having adequate supplies the industry needs to embrace data standards and pull in other clinical, geographical and socioeconomic datasets in order to move to anticipating the demand instead of looking at previous run rates to forecast. If not, they are going to have too much or not enough when these types of crisis’ hit.”

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