Ramping up domestic production won't solve US medical supply chain challenges: report

Over the past several decades, supply chain disruptions have repeatedly plagued the U.S. healthcare system, costing millions of dollars per year and putting the health and lives of patients at risk. 

While it’s no secret how heavily the U.S. relies on other countries for medical imports, a new report challenged the widely suggested solution of increasing domestic production as a way of increasing supply chain resilience.

While that may seem like a “simple fix,” the already complex, globalized nature of medical product supply chains “may limit the feasibility of an on-shoring strategy," according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

In a recent report, the organization outlined how to build a more resilient U.S. medical product supply chain. Amid ongoing global supply chain challenges, concentrating production in the U.S. could also make supplies more vulnerable to regional disasters, the organization said.

Instead, one of the many recommendations made in the report is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) make more information public about drug sourcing and manufacturing. This transparency would facilitate better purchasing decisions by health systems, highlight vulnerabilities for lawmakers and empower consumers to act on the data and potentially pressure regulators to make changes when necessary. 

“The more secure the medical product supply chain is, the more trust people will have in its ability to deliver essential medicines when they’re needed most,” said Victor J. Dzau, M.D., president of the National Academy of Medicine, in a press release. “Increasing transparency about the availability and quality of medical products—a major aspect of this report—is a fundamental step in earning the public’s trust and confidence.”

Health systems could also penalize suppliers for quality issues and defects and prioritize contracts with suppliers that are reliable—and should have an emergency purchasing agreement for guaranteed delivery of products in a disaster. 

Government bodies like the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response can also specify “crisis prices” for stockpiled supplies to ensure continuing company responses to high demand in emergencies. The federal government should fund more research on advanced manufacturing technologies for the potential on-shoring of certain products as well, the report said. 

An international treaty among major exporters of medical products, including the U.S., could prohibit export bans on pieces of critical medical products, the report suggested. This agreement could not only sanction violators but also facilitate information sharing, the report said. 

“This report offers a vital framework to help stakeholders determine which products are medically essential and vulnerable to shortages, the level of protection they need, and the right measures to take if a disruptive event does occur,” said Wallace J. Hopp, distinguished professor of business and engineering at the University of Michigan and chair of the committee that wrote the report.