The COVID-19 pandemic led to multiple calls for pharma manufacturers and their trading partners to improve the resilience of medical supply chains. Policymakers in the US and other nations have expressed concerns about weaknesses in their supply chains resulting in shortages in personal protective equipment, testing kits, and other critical supplies and equipment. Health systems reeling from inconsistent inventory levels and seemingly unpredictable stock outs are looking for ways to bolster hospital supply chains—to obtain greater visibility into and control over their supply networks, establish strategic partnerships with suppliers, and better protect the health and safety of their staff and the patients they serve.
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A fragile and inflexible medical supply chain
The global pandemic highlighted fundamental flaws in the medical supply chains of the US and other regions of the world, vulnerabilities that may present a danger to public health. Some of the weaknesses exposed by the crisis include:
- Continued dependence on cumbersome and error-prone manual tasks
- A lack of responsiveness to sudden changes in demand
- Inadequate redundancy and diversity in sourcing
- Limited coordination and communication among trading partners
- A lack of visibility into healthcare supply chain management, which makes it difficult to track products, forecast demand, and prevent shortages
Fragile medical supply chains buckled under the pressure of COVID-19-related spikes in demand, leaving healthcare providers struggling to cope with soaring prices for and frequent shortages in the supplies.
Forward-thinking medical supply chain companies are investing in technology now that they can use to more effectively manage and bolster healthcare value chains and prepare for the future.
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Using technology to improve medical supply chain management
Leaders at progressive health systems are adopting various forms of healthcare supply chain technology to better manage their supply chains. They are using technology such as radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, smart cabinets, and internet of things (IoT) sensors and connected devices to streamline and automate procurement, inventory management, and other supply chain activities. They are using supply chain analytics software to gather and benchmark key hospital supply chain metrics and generate insights to inform continuous improvement initiatives.
Healthcare organizations are leveraging digital technology to enable and support the traceability of pharmaceutical products—to detect improper handling or storage of medications and be alerted to suspect products or compromised shipments before they reach the provider or patient. They are using serialization data, analytics tools, and digital supply networks to obtain greater visibility into the end-to-end medical supply chain and streamline operations and logistics processes. They are using advanced analytics technology to surface significant trends and patterns from serialization and other types of supply chain data, gaining actionable intelligence that they can use to improve demand forecast accuracy, inform supply chain planning, and accelerate the resolution of disruptions in the medical supply chain.
Leveraging digital networking technology to strengthen the medical supply chain
Cloud-based supply chain networking technology and multienterprise work management applications are two powerful types of digital technology that organizations in the healthcare sector can use to remedy major weaknesses in the medical supply chain. They can be used to dismantle data silos and facilitate seamless information flows among trading partners, enabling firms to proactively identify potential risks, opportunities, and solutions.
Drug and medical device manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and healthcare providers can work together to identify and address vulnerabilities in the medical supply chain and work towards building patient centric supply chains. They can orchestrate shared workflows and exchange data and insights in real time to forecast shortages and mitigate potential supply chain disruption. They can coordinate efforts to build resilience into medical supply chains.
Medical Supply Chain FAQs
What is a medical supply chain?
The medical supply chain is the network of entities that produces and delivers medical supplies to healthcare providers. It plays a critical role in ensuring that health systems and hospitals have the medicines and supplies they need to protect the health and safety of their staff and patients. It includes drug and medical device manufacturers, wholesale distributors, group purchasing organizations (GPOs), healthcare providers, and patients.
How did COVID-19 affect the medical supply chain?
COVID-19 exposed the many vulnerabilities in US and other medical supply chains, including a lack of flexibility and visibility across trading partners.
How can the blockchain be used to improve medical supply chain management?
As a digital ledger and an immutable record of transactions, blockchain technology could potentially be used for the secure tracking and tracing of medications and other goods across the medical supply chain. In the future, it may be used to validate the authenticity of pharmaceutical products and combat the threat of drug counterfeiting and diversion.