2021: Healthcare Redoubles Its Focus on Data

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the healthcare industry’s need for digital transformation.

Denise Odenkirk, vice president, supplier sales

January 8, 2021

5 Min Read
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The challenges faced by the healthcare industry during 2020 have been well documented. One of the universally accepted lessons is that the industry’s inability to easily share data left many healthcare manufacturers and providers in the dark, unable to accurately predict demand or mitigate critical supply shortages. As healthcare forges a path forward in 2021, the focus will be on building more resilient supply chains, specifically using supply-chain data to drive the transparency and insights needed to help the industry be prepared the next time crisis strikes.

Below are four predictions that will have a direct impact on healthcare manufacturers.


As the move to value-based care accelerates, we’ll see the breakdown of silos in the organization and the technology infrastructure.

During the year ahead, we expect to see relationships deepen between providers and manufacturers as they work to improve visibility around supply and demand. In the early weeks of the pandemic, a lack of visibility into demand patterns and inventory availability created a chaotic experience for providers and manufacturers. Demand for N95 respirators, surgical masks, isolation gowns, exam gloves, and face shields increased two to 40 times over baseline order levels. Products were on allocation, and suppliers found themselves in unanticipated backorder situations, rationing inventory. There was little insight into true demand, where additional product could be sourced and when those would be delivered. Data sharing will help manufacturers and providers not only improve forecasting, but also become more agile in their response to shifting demand.

Related:Rushing Supplies to the COVID-19 Forefront

Sharing data will also resolve some of the routine operational issues that occur. For example, with transparency to data, suppliers and providers can quickly identify and resolve issues such as price, part, and unit-of-measure discrepancies.

With data as the fuel for the new business of healthcare, we can expect to see a continued, accelerated push to automate business processes. As consumers, we have come to expect full visibility to orders that we process online. Providers also want, even expect, the same level of automation across procure-to-pay processes.


Partnerships will be the foundation to enable value-based healthcare.

Partnerships between manufacturers and providers will also smooth the ongoing transition to value-based care. The intent behind value-based care is to shine a light on the most-effective treatments for given patient populations at the lowest possible cost. Medical device manufacturers are in a unique position to use data to provide insight into real-world evidence. Manufacturers have data that shows which products have been used, where they’ve been used, and what outcomes were achieved. We expect to see manufacturers more actively share this data moving forward. Manufacturers could, for example, partner with providers to modify guidelines for preventing hospital acquired infections by supporting minimally invasive procedures or using new infection control and prevention products/solutions. That information can then be shared broadly to advance and standardize treatment. In addition, manufacturer-provided data could help diagnose and identify appropriate products and protocols for people with chronic illness acquired either before or because of COVID-19. 


Understanding and responding to demand shifts will be table stakes.

As we continue the fight against COVID-19, demand for certain supplies will remain high well into 2021. Manufacturers should also plan to see demand shift as the industry continually recalibrates to battle the pandemic and its after-effects. To prepare, manufacturers should give thought to the near- and long-term factors that drive demand.

By understanding the broader picture, suppliers can better respond to demand shifts based on the progression of the virus. For example, heightened demand for infection control and prevention products will continue even after many people have been vaccinated. There will be an increase in patients with respiratory illnesses for those recovered COVID-19 patients who experienced damage to their lungs. COVID-19 has also accelerated the shift of orthopedic procedures to ambulatory surgery centers, which will result in demand shifts to different points of use.

And of course, there is the COVID-19 vaccine. While a great deal of attention has been given to the cold-storage process, manufacturers must prepare for the ancillary demand required to administer the vaccine, including syringes, labels, gloves, sterile wipes, and band aids, for example. These product demands are affecting manufacturers worldwide.


Data standards will be more broadly adopted to support immediate pandemic and future emergency response needs.

COVID-19 raised awareness for the importance of greater standardization, whether in how we identify products or locations, how we report potential or actual supply continuity risks, or how we administer care. In 2021, we will see more collective enthusiasm around the broader adoption of standardization to support the pandemic and emergency response.

It’s important to remember there aren’t short cuts on this journey. We know the value and power locked within our data. The only way we can get our arms around our data in a sustainable way is if we are able to do meaningful reporting.  To get to meaningful analysis, we need to integrate procure-to-pay and outcomes data seamlessly and in real-time, which means the product data for our solutions needs to comply with industry standards. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges, yet at the same time created opportunity for the healthcare industry’s digital transformation. If COVID-19 has a bright spot, it might be the level of collaboration among manufacturers, providers, clinical leaders, researchers, and local government officials. All have worked together to address critical questions around demand, sourcing, allocation, and usage. During 2021, the aim should be to strengthen those relationships and continue to collaborate, using the lessons of the past year to create a more resilient healthcare supply chain.

About the Author(s)

Denise Odenkirk

vice president, supplier sales, GHX

 Denise Odenkirk serves as vice president, supplier sales, GHX.

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