In times of great challenge, there are opportunities for leaders to emerge and, with those leaders, new systems and ways of solving problems. COVID-19 has highlighted many of the flaws in our systems, one of those being a lack of an effective supply chain to distribute enough personal protective equipment to doctors and health care workers in smaller practices.
With the pandemic looming larger by the day and much of the supply chain existing outside of the United States or solely supplying hospital systems, smaller practices had to find a way to access PPE so they could continue to serve their patients.
“We very quickly recognized it just from my practice and those of my colleagues.” said Dr. Marcelo Hochman, president of Charleston County Medical Society. “It’s a great example of collective activism, where it would be very difficult for an individual to pull something off like this.”
Dr. Hochman is referring to the Action PPE Project, a group-buying project to supply PPE to help doctors continue to care for their patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Started in Charleston and quickly spreading across the nation, the project allows smaller practices to purchase what they need instead of having to buy the bulk orders required for a large shipment.
“From the beginning, the message from the government was for the states to do this themselves. Very quickly, we were able to create a flexible system to allow doctors to continue to serve,” he said.
One of the most inspiring aspects of the pandemic is that doctors led the charge to find areas where they could serve in innovative ways. Being smaller and more flexible, they have shown that they are much better able than large systems to create adaptive programs that serve a vital need.
How does this process work exactly?
“So I as an individual in a small practice can’t order enough masks or gowns to have a factory in China take notice. Most of the practices are supplied by big distributors here in the United States. But what happened is that, of course, the bigger clients, which are the hospital systems, all of a sudden took over virtually all of the distributors’ supplies,” Dr. Hochman explained.
While it was necessary for hospitals to tap into these resources, the situation left smaller practices facing a dilemma. How were they to build a system to supply the thousands of practices in a short time? This is where the power of collective effort came in.
“All of a sudden, that small order just didn’t fit with the gigantic orders. So now they start to allocate certain amounts of PPE even to their long-standing clients. What instigated all this is that we were able to create a way forward to sustain doctors’ practices with PPE. And then we just organically came up on a way to do something that is going to be, I think, a permanent fixture.”
In less than two weeks, they created a revolutionary program and began working toward distributing PPE to the small practices who needed it.
“We went from the initial idea to a survey of the membership. This is just Charleston County. We’ve got 200 members in a very small group. So we have the idea. We create a survey. And then we launched the PPE project with an urgent bulletin, telling people ‘here’s a website,’” Dr. Hochman said.
Within 10 days of coming up with the idea, they got feedback and began expanding the program to the state of South Carolina. Within a month, they had an order for more than 300,000 units of PPE. The Action PPE Project has now distributed millions of units of PPE to thousands of practices across the nation – and it continues to grow.
“It’s an example of how grassroots movements can become the mainstream movement. It seems like this is something that could become the norm,” Dr. Hochman concluded. “I think it’s here to stay.”
By James Crawford