January 6, 2021
Charleston County Medical Society announced that ActionPPE, its collective buying initiative created by doctors for doctors, has shipped over 3.4 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, respirators, gloves, gowns, face shields, and sanitizer, to 2,606 practices representing over 10,000 doctors.
What started as a local effort to help doctors get essential PPE so they could treat patients and protect themselves from COVID-19 has evolved into a nationwide buying collective that ensures healthcare providers have a steady supply of protective gear.
ActionPPE’s mission is to provide PPE and medical devices to independent doctors and practices that are not part of large hospital systems and have been disenfranchised – especially during the pandemic. Due to the lack of available PPE, some of these independents have not been able to stay open, care for their communities and/or keep their offices safe.
“I’m a strong believer that the people who are involved with the problem are the ones who need to come up with the solutions,” said Dr. Marcelo Hochman, Charleston County Medical Society president. “I’m most proud that it was a group of physicians who saw a problem and created a solution that is scalable and sustainable.”
Charleston County Medical Society founded ActionPPE in March, during the first wave of the pandemic. Demand for PPE had skyrocketed, rendering it extraordinarily difficult for many healthcare providers to acquire genuine masks and gloves. Smaller physician offices and solo practitioners were particularly hard hit, as their traditional suppliers prioritized the PPE needs of larger practices and health systems.
With it painfully apparent that they were at the bottom of the PPE supply chain, Dr. Hochman and a handful of physician members of the medical society leaped into action, making calls and leveraging connections to locate the necessary supplies. They eventually connected with James Eron, an international management consultant with importing/exporting expertise and contacts overseas, including to FDA-registered factories in China manufacturing PPE.
And what happened next, as the old saying goes, is history.
Within 10 days, ActionPPE was established, an eCommerce website was launched, and an email outreach program began which offered all physicians in South Carolina the opportunity to order PPE through the collective. That initial email brought in over $50,000 worth of orders.
But the momentum was just beginning. Leveraging long-standing peer relationships, CCMS connected with medical societies in other states, beginning with Arizona, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Additional products were added based on doctor needs. Today, nine months after launch, over 40 state and national medical and related associations are participating in the collective buying group.
The program is focused on what doctors see as a need. “We’re able to respond to the market very quickly,” said Eron. “Right now we’re getting a lot of calls from doctors asking for diabetic needles, which is what we foresaw happening two or three months ago. We’ve already placed an order with the factory in China.”
There are a multitude of benefits for physicians who order through ActionPPE. As part of a larger order, providers are assured that their order is fulfilled. Connecting with a reputable and certified supplier of PPE, including certified Honeywell n95 masks, also means that they aren’t going to receive counterfeit supplies – a growing concern in the medical industry. In addition, doctors typically save 20%-50% on their PPE costs.
And, finally, there is a philanthropic benefit. Charleston County Medical Society donates some of the surplus PPE supplies to free clinics and homeless shelters. Using the money from the 5% it receives on orders, Charleston County Medical Society is setting up five $2,000 scholarships based on merit and need for students attending the local medical university.
“ActionPPE gives physicians and patients an alternative and a choice that gives them control, as opposed to being at the mercy of big distributorships, especially if something happens again and we get relegated down to the bottom of the list,” said Dr. Hochman. “And the power of the collective is that my personal order would be for 30 PPEs, which is very small, while with the collective that amount is multiplied by 1,000, and, all of a sudden, the factories in China are paying attention.”
Large distributors are not incentivized to supply to smaller practices because it does not make economic sense. But there is a lot of potential for demand — there are 415,000 independent physicians nationwide.
“If we could aggregate all the independents we could form a buying group almost as big as the hospital groups,” said Eron. “The concept of physicians coming together as a collective makes a lot of sense.”