Lessons From The NaHCO3 Shortage In The Healthcare Supply Chain

With the current Sodium Bicarbonate shortage, healthcare supply chains appear to need a dose of their own medicine.

Most of us, including this author, think of Sodium Bicarbonate either as a baking ingredient, or as a morning after remedy for way too much alcohol. It seems to last forever, and if it needs replacing, just pop down to the nearest supermarket where it’s cheap and plentiful.

In a purer, sterile form, it is a critical component of healthcare, used for the reduction of excessive acid in the bloodstream, especially during cardiac arrest events.

There is currently a serious shortage of the ability for hospitals to use Sodium Bicarbonate, not because of the product, but because of the method of delivery to the patient — the glass syringes in which it is supplied in this super pure form. Most of the suppliers of the chemical for medical purposes use the same manufacturer of the syringes. No syringes (since May 16 and probably not available again until mid-August) means no way to provide when and where needed. Emergency supplies may be arriving from Australia in the next few weeks.

Lesson learned?

End users (in this case, hospitals) need to be asking their vendors where they get the key components of the products they are selling. The end users then need to compare this list with the similar lists provided by other vendors, spot a common source, and set in place a plan to get alternative supplies. The supply chain is not just the tier 1 vendors (those who send the bill) but often flows down to multiple layers to sometimes just one or two vendors on whom the industry has come to rely for reasons of pricing and capabilities. Ignore these and the supply chain will one day be broken. The resulting reputation damage and other losses could be overwhelming, if not for the business, then for the executives who made the purchasing decisions.

With technology today it has become practical to ask down the supply chain who provides what key components, and then determine the relationships between all these vendors to identify potential hot spots that may require a plan or process to maintain adequate supplies — and might even create opportunities to provide goods or services when your competitors are hampered.

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