The availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) has improved since the Covid-19 pandemic hit a year ago, but some items remain in short supply, according to data from North Carolina-based healthcare company Premier Inc., released this week.
Premier analyzed historic and predictive data from a sample of 2,500 hospitals in its network to gauge improvement in the availability of PPE since the height of the pandemic last spring. They found that supplies of medical masks, gowns, and gloves are more readily available than they were at this time last year, but that supply remains constrained, especially for gloves.
The data compares inventory on-hand for each item during Covid-19 case spikes in 2020 to that available as of March 1, 2021. Access to N95 and KN95 masks has improved from an average of 23 days’ supply on-hand during spikes to an average 200 days’ availability today—even though N95 usage quadrupled from April 2020 to December 2020. Surgical mask availability has improved from 30 days to 45 days on-hand. Premier said the market for N95s remains constrained but not in active shortage, due in large part to health systems’ efforts to conserve masks as well as stockpiling efforts during periods of declining cases.
Isolation gown availability surpassed N95s as the top concern for hospitals at the height of the pandemic last spring, but that situation has improved as well, according to Premier data. Availability of isolation gowns on-hand has increased from 20 days during spikes to 40 days today, despite gown usage having doubled since last June.
Exam gloves remain the toughest item to come by, and availability challenges are expected to continue into 2023, the data show. Global demand for nitrile exam gloves exceeds current production capacity by nearly 40%, according to Premier’s data. They said raw material scarcity, port closures and delays, and a two-fold increase in gloves usage since last June have worsened ongoing shortages.
“In a January 2021 survey, Premier members cited access to exam gloves as the [second] greatest challenge to care for Covid-19 patients, after clinical staffing,” Premier researchers wrote in a report detailing the data. “And as of March 1, 2021, most Premier members have fewer than 30 days on hand.”
Healthcare providers are implementing glove conservation practices—such as limiting the number of patients in hospitals and outpatient settings and utilizing telemedicine where possible—as a way to increase product on-hand.