7 Questions to Ask Your Ancillary Supplies Vendor

by Hope Cullen

It’s common for sponsors and CROs to work with vendors to acquire ancillary supplies and ship them to sites. From the outset, it is important to fully understand your vendor’s capabilities and range of services to make sure you can attain your goals. Asking the following questions will help you map out areas of consideration and ensure that no time is lost in procuring and shipping your supplies:

  1. What is the vendor’s or supply chain’s relationship with manufacturers?

Ensure the vendor has no agenda to push you into procuring supplies that aren’t a perfect fit for your study. One manufacturer might have a shelf full of a specific model of infusion pumps gathering dust, which could inspire the vendor to tell you that the pump is exactly what you need. Make sure your study’s needs, not the vendor’s or manufacturer’s, are placed first.

  1. Do they maintain a warehouse?

If yes, make sure it is climate controlled and has the appropriate storage space for the kinds of equipment or supplies you need to maintain.

  1. Where are their warehouses located?

Make sure the warehouse is accessible to the majority of carriers. Warehouses in rural locations may have problems with regular pickups and deliveries. Also, validate that the warehouse is in a region of the country that facilitates importing and exporting. Often those closest to major cities or airports have the best functionality.

  1. How do I access my inventory?

Does accessing your inventory require a phone call or an email message to the vendor? It is best if you can see it for yourself at any time independently, for example, through an online portal.

  1. How is inventory managed?

If you have to consider expiration dates for your supplies, verify that the vendor will only send product out that has the appropriate lifetime left on that supply. Many suppliers subscribe to a FIFO system, which is “first in, first out” regardless of your specific study needs. This can often result in very short shelf life at the site, and if the patient’s visit is not for a while, it can cause expiration issues.

  1. What types of repackaging support do they offer?

If you have a product that comes in cartons of 1,000 and you only need to send 10 to the site, consider if the vendor has the ability to repackage appropriately. The vendor should be able to tell you whether the product will maintain its properties if it’s repackaged. For example, if it’s sterile, it must maintain its sterility, or if it is CE marked, it must remain in its original marked packaging.

  1. What logistics support do they provide for shipments?

It is important to have a vendor that not only procures the supplies you need but can also get them to their destination for you.

Despite the most careful preparations, unforeseen customs issues can arise. When this happens, know in advance whether resolving customs issues becomes your problem, or if your vendor will handle the matter to a successful conclusion on your behalf.   Understanding your role and your vendor’s role will prepare you for timely resolution of customs issues.

Working with a competent ancillary supplies vendor will gain you instant access to expertise and systems that are in place and working effectively. This will add efficiencies to your study and also free up your time and your company’s internal resources to concentrate on other tasks.

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