Logistics Education a Remedy for Improving Healthcare

By Dr. Rafael Díaz and Dr. Teresa De la Cruz

Healthcare organizations around the world are under intense pressure to improve productivity while maintaining high safety standards. Logistics is a key part of their operations, so it stands to reason that improving the efficiency of logistics will help healthcare facilities to achieve their productivity goals. The Healthcare Logistics Education and Learning Pathway (HELP) project aims to make healthcare logistics more efficient through education.

One study estimates that 30% to 45% of hospital budgets (regardless of which management model they adhere to) is spent on logistics activities. Moreover, almost half of this cost could be reduced by adopting best logistics management practices without any reduction in service quality.

Yet many of the people who operate and manage healthcare facilities lack a formal education in the logistics discipline. Departmental managers might hold business degrees at master’s or even PhD levels, but there is no guarantee that they have studied logistics as part of their educational training. Even workers directly involved in logistics-related activities such as warehouse operation might know relatively little about logistics beyond the expertise they require to do their jobs.

A deeper understanding of logistics would give these individuals a broader appreciation of the discipline and enable them to achieve supply chain improvements that benefit their healthcare organizations.

The potential benefits are by no means confined to obvious areas such as inventory management and goods transportation. Healthcare logistics also encompasses the movement of patients. Improving patient flow could reduce the amount of time that people spend in clinics and hospitals by eliminating delays and wasteful processes.

The HELP project team is developing an educational program for healthcare. The two-month, online course will be a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). This is a new breed of program that uses an innovative mix of learning aids such as videos and chat rooms to help individuals learn at their own pace.

MOOCs also are designed to reach extremely broad audiences of learners; the online classes can be attended by many thousands of students located in multiple countries across the globe. This is important because although the HELP program will initially be aimed at learners in Europe, the longer-term objective is to make it available to a worldwide audience.

The exact structure of the program is under development. Currently, the project team is building a framework of competencies. When this work is completed, they can consider the specific subjects that will be covered. As regards cost, the initial pilot program will be free, but there will probably be a charge for the final program when fully implemented.

It is likely that there will be different MOOCs for each job level. For example, a vocational MOOC for operations workers and a MOOC designed for managers who have graduate degrees might be offered. The Zaragoza Logistics Center is leading the work on the master’s-level course and is also involved in the PhD-level offering.

Having completed the course, individuals could further their education. For example, a warehouse worker who completes the vocational course might want to go on to study for a bachelor’s degree. As an added incentive, graduates will receive educational credits that are recognized by European accreditation authorities.

But the main objective is to raise the efficiency and responsiveness of logistics in healthcare organizations. For example, graduates will gain a better understanding of the structure of warehouses and types of warehousing methods. At the PhD level, students are expected to develop novel theoretical frameworks that incorporate the complexities found in the healthcare logistics sector among other contributions. There is a general trend to introduce lean management methods in the healthcare industry, and managers will be familiarized with simple tools for implementing lean.

This knowledge will help facilities to reduce costs and streamline processes. And such improvements will improve the utilization of resources – including time. Freeing up time so that staff can focus more on the needs of patients is another key objective.

Funded by the European Commission under the Erasmus+ programme, the 36-month HELP project is scheduled for completion at the end of August 2020. Its flagship two-month course on healthcare logistics is due to become available in 2019.

Improving educational standards will benefit the healthcare industry today – and in the future. As the demand for healthcare service continues to increase, the need to provide high-quality services in line with shifting patient needs will become more urgent. At the same time, healthcare organizations will be expected to cut costs and improve patient care and safety. These pressures have already forced hospitals and other facilities to change their operating models, and more reforms are expected.

For more information about the project click here