Standardization: Time for a New Model


Alan Weintraub, FABC, Chief Procurement Officer, Enloe Medical Center, Chico, CA

I heard it again the other day. I was reading an application from a job candidate and there it was on the application – “chaired the product standardization committee.” For so many years in the hospital and healthcare industry, it has been the dominant paradigm for dealing with supplies and consumables. Like many paradigms, it served a purpose, but has now reached the end of its useful life. It’s time to rethink the model.

I am speaking of product standardization. I’m not, for the record, suggesting anyone do a one-eighty and adopt radical customization as a single strategy to deal with supplies and consumable technologies in hospitals; however, somewhere on the spectrum – with standardization at one end and customization at the other – lies the answer. A tipping point, if you will. Stray too far in either direction and one becomes counterproductive. Costs will rise. It is the obligation of the supply chain professional, the value analysis practitioner, to identify the tipping point in each case.

I have learned through the years that the tipping point varies by product. I have learned that it can move, even relative to the same product, from year to year because of other forces or circumstances around the use of a product. Forces such as changes in practice patterns, patient types, and market dynamics cause movement in the tipping point. One must be on the lookout for its indicators with regularity and discipline if one is to stay ahead of it.

The most obvious indicator which coincides with the tipping point is waste. Journals are filled with real-life stories about healthcare waste in all its inglorious forms. As one studies the utilization of each product or technology, one must be sensitive to observe the formation of waste –  that is, excess inventory, discards, redundant motion, unnecessary practice variation, and irrational consumption – all of which are suggestive that one is in the neighborhood of the tipping point and the ratio of standardization to customization is out of whack.

Direct observation of the use of technologies and objective discussion of identified waste allows us to take a more rational approach to our standardization versus customization strategy – and allows each of us to more effectively contribute to lowering the cost of care in each of our respective organizations.