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Supply and Demand Issues Around the Medical Industry

 

It’s no secret that the pandemic has rocked our world in many different ways. From our health to our wealth, the pandemic has placed major changes in our lives whether we were ready for it or not. And, no matter what industry you work in, you might have come across a shortage of goods or price surges, occasionally causing some supplies to double, triple or quadruple in price and affecting the industry you work in. From the price of bacon tripling in some areas to a shortage of used vehicles, everyone has been affected in one way or another.

When you go out to eat at your favorite restaurant, you might have noticed they have cut back on their hours or even replaced some different food items on their menus. If you drive a vehicle, another big noticeable change are the gas prices that shot way up for the first time in years. No matter what you do or where you live, you can find clear evidence around the country that we are living in some volatile times.

Right from the beginning of the pandemic, one of the very first industries to see a supply and demand issue was the medical field. As masks became mandatory and specific machines and supplies, such as gloves, were needed to help take care of patients, big shortages in those items were evident. But what else took a hit that we didn’t notice right away? Of course, the public saw the common items, such as the gloves and masks shortage, but what else happened behind closed doors?

Supply and Demand Issues

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In the early days of the pandemic, it was not uncommon to find hospitals and clinics having difficulty keeping up with the demand of stocking gloves and masks for employees to use as PPE. But as the pandemic dragged on, there have been many different hospital supplies that seem to be hard to keep stocked.

For instance, according to a Reuters News article, exam tables that used to take roughly three to six weeks to be restocked were now taking up to five months. Shortages of raw materials have caused much of the shortages because the products are taking longer to build. Before, there would be items ready for shipment when needed, but that just isn’t the case anymore, as it’s taking longer for items to be built due to shipment delays and “larger supply-chain disruptions.”

“The auto industry is perhaps the most visible example of how shortages are radiating through the economy and hitting consumers – with car lots outside many factories filled with vehicles waiting for scarce computer chips,” Reuters wrote.

And, now that the pandemic has lingered for more than a year – nearly going on two years now – we have started to see a shortage in items that don’t even have to do with COVID-19 patients or taking care of them. Heart defibrillators taking three months to be delivered instead of two weeks, portable plastic toilets that are used in patients’ rooms are now nearly back-ordered by four months, and crutches are in very high demand due to the aluminum material used to build them.

According to a US News & World Report article, a professional from a healthcare-consulting firm confirmed, “virtually all U.S. hospitals and healthcare systems (99%) have reported challenges in procuring needed supplies… Shortages in raw materials and components hamper the production of both drugs and sophisticated medical devices. Manufacturing facilities struggle to keep up as COVID-19 sweeps through worker ranks. Labor shortages prevent medical products from being transported to the places where they’re needed the most.”

It all ultimately boils down to supply and demand. And when supplies are in high demand, this typically causes the prices to increase. Shortages in aluminum, semiconductors, wood and paper pulp, and resin are causing uncommon supplies issues of medical devices, such as medical monitors, CT scan devices, packaging for medical supplies and gloves.

“If there’s a silver lining that’s come out of COVID, it’s the collaboration across the healthcare field,” states a professional from a U.S. News article. “You’re seeing a lot of local and community businesses step up and retool their manufacturing facilities to make supplies to help the hospitals.”

Another reason items are going up in prices is due to transportation issues. Due to the pandemic, travel restrictions and other miscellaneous happenings, bottlenecks have piled up in different places around the world, causing some shipping goods to not be able to deliver in a timely fashion. On top of that, there is a severe global shortage of drivers and workers, which makes it difficult to get the job done. And when you have all these issues piling up, “this creates a shortage of products getting through that limit competition, causing price increasing,” according to a PBS.org article.

And, with the recent news of the new coronavirus variant beginning to spread, there could be another wave of shortages, price increases and just general hardship on the economy. So, what does the future look like for medical supplies and other items affected by the pandemic?

What is the future outlook?

nurse looking for supplies

Slowly but surely, some medical supplies and machines have been easier to come across and have been able to restock on the shelves. But, unfortunately, the future doesn’t seem like there is going to be an easy fix to all the issues immediately.

With social distancing restrictions lifting, consumer demands are increasing and will most likely continue to increase as the holiday season unfolds. And for this reason, experts don’t believe that inflation is going away anytime soon. When the pandemic first began, there was a big boom in online retail that reached unprecedented levels, and suppliers couldn’t keep up with the demand. From grocery shopping to anything retail, shoppers were busy hunkering down and buying virtually anything.

Of course, there is no crystal ball and it’s hard to determine what will happen in the future, but there are certain indicators that can give clues to what will happen in the future, such as holiday consumer trends. As of where we stand now, prices will most likely remain high for quite some time.

In fact, “Economists surveyed by Bloomberg in October expect inflation to slow to 3.4 percent next summer and hit 2.6 percent by the end of the year,” PBS.org writes. And while this is encouraging, it’s still above the pre-pandemic average of 1.8 percent.

So, where do we go from here? While it might not be easy or maybe even borderline dangerous to experience medical supplies getting delayed in transport or seeing prices spike, hopefully it will soon pass and things will get back to normal. Until then, it could be a matter of getting creative and using the materials cautiously. Recently, a shortage of crutches has required some hospitals to reach out to the community and ask for donations for anyone that isn’t currently using a pair.

Many things have changed and become very different from when they were before the pandemic. Although many things have gone back to being a little more normal than usual, it looks like the unusual patterns of shipping delays and price increases are here to stay for a little while longer.