A hospital’s unsung hero in a crisis could be a GPO, report says

In the midst of a natural disaster or as they build cyber tools to keep patients’ data safe, providers often have an unsung ally, according to a new report: group purchasing organizations.

The Healthcare Supply Chain Association, which represents the country’s biggest GPOs, released its second annual report highlighting such organizations’ role in the healthcare supply chain. These groups are stepping up to participate in areas representing some of the industry’s biggest concerns, including emergency preparedness, cybersecurity and value-based care, according to the report (PDF).

In the case of disaster planning, for example, GPOs are a major stakeholder in gearing up for annual hurricane seasons, Todd Ebert, HSCA’s CEO, told FierceHealthcare in an interview. But they also play a role in the response to these emergencies, too.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October, GPOs were in touch with city’s major trauma centers to assist with acquiring needed supplies to treat the influx of patients injured in the attack, Ebert said. And providers are increasingly requesting and demanding that GPOs play this greater role outside of simply keeping typical supply closets stocked, he said.

“Customers recognize that GPOs provide tremendous value, and they’re asking GPOs to do more for them,” Ebert said.

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Ebert said GPOs are also able to assist providers in acquiring the tech tools they need to improve cybersecurity and data analytics, and are, by their nature, able to also play a role in driving the transition to value-based purchasing.

These groups are also playing a role in addressing supply shortages—such as of injectable opioids—and that includes working with manufacturers and the Drug Enforcement Agency to identify and address gaps, he said.

In addition to highlighting the new ways GPOs are getting involved in healthcare, the report notes that these organizations have led to significant cost savings for providers in their more traditional work. GPOs are estimated to achieve cost savings of between $392.2 billion and $864.4 billion from 2013 to 2022.

For patients, those savings equate to about 10% to 18% savings across several different types of services, according to the report.

RELATED: Hurricane aftermath—Damage leads to hospital shortage of drug supplies from Puerto Rico

More than 7,000 acute care providers and 68,000 non-acute care providers work with a GPO in some capacity, according to the report. Because they’re so widespread, GPOs are forced to innovate—such as by playing a more active role in an emergency—to continue to prove their value to providers, Ebert said.

“You have to provide excellent value from a cost savings standpoint, but the other services and programs GPOs offer are tremendous,” he said.