GS1 standards get big support from health sector

A huge majority of Canadian health care institutions and suppliers support country-wide adoption of global GS1 supply chain standards, according to a new report.


The survey, conducted by the Innovative Research Group Inc. on behalf of GS1 Canada, polled 294 Canadian health care sector professionals, including stakeholders from hospitals, shared services organizations and product suppliers. It found that 89 per cent of responding health care institutions and 75 per cent of responding health care suppliers believe a move toward global GS1 standards will streamline product identification and improve the health care system as a whole. Don’t forget to nominate someone you work with for a ComputerWorld Canada Leadership Award


GS1 standards are widely used in the international supply chain community and cover barcode, electronic messaging, data synchronization, and radio-frequency identification standards. The survey is part of GS1’s Canadian Healthcare Supply Chain Standards Project, which is a cross-country plan developed in partnership with industry players and some provincial governments.


Robert Bell, director of health care for GS1 Canada, attributed the gap 14 per cent gap in support for the GS1 standard to supplier experience.


He said health care industry suppliers that also conduct business in other areas of retail, such as Johnson & Johnson, were more likely to be familiar with GS1 standards and the importance of harmonizing inventory and product identification. Suppliers that predominately supply the health care space, Bell added, have been “slower to mature.”


Michael Martineau, an Ottawa-based e-health consultant, said the gap could also be attributed to the many attempts to standardize health care practices in the past.


“Vendors have been down this road before,” he said. “They don’t mind making the investment, but they want to make sure everybody is on board.”


Martineau added that because the health care system is a large ecosystem of suppliers and institutions, each with its own board and executives, an overarching project like the national initiative being spearheaded by GS1 Canada is necessary to get both the bigger and smaller suppliers on-board.


He added that the “tipping point” on implementing interoperability and supply chain initiatives will be once product suppliers surpass the 50 or 60 per cent barrier. Currently, according to the survey, only 40 per cent of product suppliers have instituted a plan to increase interoperability in the supply chain.


“Once we get to that point, it will make sense for everybody to follow suit,” Martineau said.


Joan McLaughlin, chief supply chain officer and director of support services at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said that viewing this issue from the frontlines can really highlight the need for streamlining operations. “Imagine if Wal-Mart or a grocery chain didn’t have common ways to do business,” she said.


The amount of extra time and resources involved to deal with medical supplies not compliant with GS1 standards is an enormous burden on every hospital, she said. This even extends to the supply chain software systems, which McLaughlin said, are completely unregulated.


“We have three people that work on the database to get this information into the software,” she said. If health products could be uploaded into the software electronically, all using the same format and global standards, staff time could be served in other areas.


She said that because suppliers and supply chain software makers are often driven solely by costs and reluctant to change their practices, the move toward GS1 standards must be firm, yet incremental. Giving suppliers plenty of time and notice to make these changes will allow them to budget and schedule updates, McLaughlin said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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