Hospitals taking advantage of online supply sharing


Facing shortages of protective equipment, two New England hospital systems tried the latest twist in internet matchmaking: online swap meets.

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, online platforms have popped up to match hospitals that need masks, gowns, ventilators and even doctors with those that have extras. And other projects have been started to link hospitals with nontraditional sources of equipment.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for this,” said Michelle Hood, chief operating officer of the American Hospital Association. “It’s sure made a difference to those who got supplies when they really needed them.”

The collaborations fill gaps until supplies from regular distributors arrive. They also help the finances of hospitals that have seen revenue plummet as lucrative scheduled surgeries and outpatient services nosedive.

The hospital association is involved in some projects, including the 100 Million Mask Challenge, which lines up alternative manufacturers to churn out masks for medical workers.

Last month, the University of Vermont Health system’s Burlington hospital was short on face shields. But it had surplus hand sanitizer, which it got from local distilleries that partnered to make 16-ounce “Vermont Strong” bottles, said supply chain director Charlie Miceli.

Meanwhile, his counterpart at a Lebanon, New Hampshire, hospital was hunting for hand sanitizer.

They turned to The Exchange at Resilinc, a new online trading platform from Stanford Health Care, hospital consulting group Premier Inc. and logistics software company Resilinc.

Miceli and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s Curtis Lancaster posted descriptions of what they needed and what they could trade. They were matched up and swapped 500 of each.

“It gives you some breathing room so you can go track down more supply,” Miceli said.

Resilinc CEO Bindiya Vikal said N95 masks, the most protective type, are the top requested item.

“There are more than 9,000 items that are in various stages of being rationed,” she said, including some medicines and multiple brands of protective gear.

Chaun Powell, Premier’s disaster preparedness head, noted the project also is arranging loans of ventilators, patient beds and other equipment.

The online swaps are a counterintuitive result of the widely reported U.S. medical supply shortages: Hospitals also have some surpluses, due to unexpected private donations, government allocations, shipments ordered months ago finally arriving and declines in patients as virus hot spots shift.

In just its first two weeks, The Exchange at Resilinc had more than 900 hospitals participating, plus thousands of surgery centres, nursing homes and other facilities. They have posted requests for more than 575,000 items and offers of nearly 1.8 million items as of May 11. A dozen trades covering thousands of items, mostly protective gear, have been completed in barely three weeks, with more pending.

Most of these new platforms launched in mid- or late April. Others include:

  • Vizient, a hospital consultant and group purchasing organization, has set up a site for hospitals with spare supplies to donate or sell them to other hospitals.
  • Cohealo, which arranges for hospitals to temporarily lend pricey but rarely used medical equipment, is helping to co-ordinate a national reserve of breathing machines. When hospitals lend ventilators to others with shortages, Cohealo handles pickup and shipment.
  • Helping Hospitals is finding doctors and other medical workers whose regular jobs have been disrupted to work temporarily at hot-spot hospitals. It’s a partnership of staffing agency On Call Physician Staffing and malpractice insurer Curi.