Supply Chain and Operations Department

Studying the Supply Chain 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The year 2020 has the highest search volume for “supply chain” during the last 10 years, according to Google Trends data. That’s one indication of Americans COVID-19-fueled interest in the process for getting consumer goods; the other is rather obvious: empty shelves of toilet paper, diapers, and even Dr. Pepper. 

For faculty members in the Carlson School Supply Chain and Operations Department, those concerns and many others, including how to respond to the health care crisis of COVID-19, meant it was time to get to work on multiple fronts. 

Research

Impact of Telemedicine on Rural Minnesota

COVID-19 has led to a focus on the use of telemedicine to overcome geographical barriers and increasing access to care, reducing costs, and improving quality. So, who benefits the most?

Those in rural locations and areas where poverty is low, according to the results from a new study by former Carlson School PhD student Xiaojin Liu (now an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University), Associate Professor Susan Meyer Goldstein, and Professor, Department Chair and Elmer L. Andersen Chair in Sustainable Supply Chain Kingshuk Sinha.

“Taken together, these findings show urban poor patients with large health disparities aren’t using telemedicine,” said Meyer Goldstein. “Knowing this will help to design and manage supply chains to improve healthcare access for that population and others.” 

Additionally, the authors found cost and low local demand are why providers haven’t started or expanded telemedicine options. One reason to invest, according to the research: improved community health. Increased use of telemedicine over time in Minnesota clinics is associated with positive gains in health indicators. 

Nationalism’s Effect on a Potential Vaccine

With a limited supply of critical products such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and life-saving drugs, several national governments implemented policies to limit exporting such products and serve their citizens first. Now, there is growing concern that similar measures will occur for a COVID-19 vaccine, a phenomenon dubbed "vaccine nationalism.”

Professor and Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Supply Chain Karen Donohue, Assistant Professor Karthik Natarajan, and PhD student Vincent Yu have found these policies do not always work as intended.

“In some situations, the policies have been a factor for vaccine manufacturers to move production to another country,” said Donohue. “And we found that local, and sometimes even total, capacities may decrease if the investment cost is high.” 

With these initial findings, the research team is currently investigating how changes in capacity investments may influence public health outcomes, by taking into account the role of herd immunity, and what behavioral factors may further influence decision-makers' choices.

Understanding Why Some Restaurants Struggled

It’s no secret that small restaurants are struggling. Is there a path forward? Assistant Professor Hailong Cui and colleagues at the University of Southern California think so and are working now to determine the right responses.

Using unique data from a food distributor in California, the researchers are gathering additional data to carry out econometric analyses to assist restaurants in different stages of operation maintain sufficient sales to survive. Also, they plan to look at barriers facing minority-owned, small restaurants who have been disproportionately impacted.

Teaching and Outreach

Conducting research is just one aspect of the department's work. In the classroom, instructors and students responded to the crisis in real-time. For example, Sinha mapped the COVID-19 care supply chain, end-to-end, in his spring semester graduate elective on supply chain management in the medical device and health sector. And Professional Director of the MS in Supply Chain Management program Scott Martens advised student capstone projects that assisted one client in developing direct-to-consumer capabilities for products and helped another client analyze the impact of supply chain policy changes. 

As part of the Carlson Consulting Enterprise, Managing Director Siddharth Chandramouli, Associate Director Dave MacCallum, and Meyer Goldstein, who serves as academic director, are also supporting supply chain-related projects. This includes: determining uses for excess catch from fisheries in northern Minnesota who are facing declines in demand from restaurants; helping a large healthcare company determine the enduring way that the COVID-19 pandemic will change public health services in the U.S., and supporting a reimagination of employment training to meet the needs of job-seekers in a post-pandemic world. 

Sinha also moderated a roundtable discussion convened by U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN), co-founder of the bipartisan Congressional Supply Chain Caucus, involving leaders from the food and agriculture, medical devices, transportation and logistics, small business, and global manufacturing sectors in June 2020.

This article appeared in the Fall 2020 Discovery magazine

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Carlson School faculty experts researched a myriad of aspects of the pandemic in real time. In this edition, you'll see how state and local governments dealt with the economic downturn, how that economic anxiety was worse for some individuals and groups than others, and how the Supply Chain and Operations Department shifted its research agendas and curriculum to help educate policymakers, media, and the public on how to address these issues.

Fall 2020 table of contents