Supply Chain Reaction: How Hurricane Maria Stirred Up the Infusion Pump Market

SUPPLY CHAIN REACTION

As the CMO of an e-commerce business that deals in the rental and leasing of medical equipment, I am frequently asked to explain why health care facilities, like hospitals and doctor’s offices, would choose renting as a method of accessing equipment.

From our perspective, there are seemingly countless reasons to rent medical equipment, but when asked, I typically share a few of the main reasons, like:

  • Temporary replacements during equipment maintenance and repair periods

  • Testing performance of different makes and models before making a purchase choice

  • Trying out a new medical procedure to see if patient customer base can be expanded

  • Short-term use during facilities renovations

  • A one-time equipment need for a single, outlier procedure

  • And the list goes on and on

Recently, our website has been experiencing a massive influx of requests from hospitals and healthcare facilities all over the country looking to rent infusion pumps. I wish I could say it was smart business decisions and marketing acumen that caused the increase in online demand; but when you’re talking about typical orders of less than 5 pumps jumping to a steady stream of orders for a very specific make and model ranging from 40 – 250 pumps, you know other outside factors are in play. As it turns out, this time the inflated demand for infusion pump rentals was created by an unpredictable and unfortunate cause—nature’s fury in the form of a very large hurricane named, Maria, that hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017.

Through bits of information from our rental customers and members of our global network of equipment suppliers, we suspected the infusion pump explosion was somehow linked to Hurricane Maria. Our suspicions were confirmed as we pieced together clues provided by a November 15th NPR article, Hurricane Damage To Manufacturers In Puerto Rico Affects Mainland Hospitals, Too. According to author, Alison Kodjak, 100+ drug and medical device manufacturing facilities received major damage from Hurricane Maria; and three of those damaged facilities belonged to Baxter, one of the leading suppliers of IV bags to US hospitals. The damage to the Baxter plants resulted in a shortage in the US supply of IV bags, which are used to administer fluids and medications to patients intravenously.

So, how do you administer medications when you don’t have access to IV bags? You use a specific type of pump, called syringe pump, that doesn’t require an IV bag. The Medfusion 3500 syringe pump is just such a device. Since hospitals and healthcare facilities all across the US are running short on IV bags, they are searching for Medfusion 3500s, lots and lots of Medfusion 3500s.

Who would have thought that a hurricane in Puerto Rico would have had such a profound impact on an equipment rental tech startup in North Carolina? What lessons did we learn? Whether it’s from vendors, suppliers and customers, business data or the appropriate media outlets, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of the markets you serve. It’s also important to establish partnerships and operational procedures that enable your business to remain nimble and respond quickly to conditions and circumstances that impact your market in unexpected ways.

What are some unusual, unpredictable and unexpected events that rocked your business’ market or industry? And did your business respond promptly and effectively, or are there some lessons you learned that can be applied next time?