Maintaining a safe and secure supply of pharmaceuticals is essential for protecting public health. But this inherently complex task also presents significant challenges to those involved in the pharmaceutical supply chain. Challenges like high demand volatility, increasing regulatory scrutiny, and the large and complicated nature of today's supplier networks can make increasing pharmaceutical supply chain efficiency and responsiveness a struggle.
Forward-thinking healthcare organizations are turning to digital technology and digitization of the supply chain to expedite and better maintain the movement of pharmaceutical supplies. They are leveraging innovative tools and collaborative networks to gain greater visibility into product flows in the pharma supply chain and streamline and automate pharmaceutical supply chain management in the face of increasing uncertainty. They are using technology to ease compliance, enhance supply chain agility, and ensure that healthcare providers and the patients they serve get the medications they need where and when they need them.
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Goods, services, and organizations involved in pharmaceutical supply
Pharmaceutical supply encompasses a wide variety of products and stakeholders. It produces and transports not just prescription and over-the-counter medications but also the raw materials and chemical compounds required for their manufacturing. It provides health systems and patients with sensitive biologic drugs, or vaccines, cells, genes, and other products produced from living organisms or their components. Many products in pharmaceutical supply can easily be damaged as a result of poor handling and storage, or through exposure to sunlight or changes in temperature or humidity.
The stakeholders involved in the supply of pharmaceuticals include:
- Manufacturers that research, develop, and produce the drugs.
- Approved suppliers from whom they source ingredients.
- Wholesalers that purchase and distribute drugs to retail pharmacies and non-retail dispensers.
- Dispensers that provide the drugs to consumers.
- Consumers that use the drugs to treat their illnesses and other health conditions.
- Payers such as health insurers and employers.
- Fiscal intermediaries such as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
Pharmaceutical companies depend heavily on contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) for an array of services. Many firms are now depending on third-party providers for research and development, manufacturing, quality testing, logistics for warehouse and inventory management, and shipping—the outsourcing of which adds more complexity to an already intricate pharmaceutical supply chain.
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Stress factors in pharmaceutical supply
Pharmaceutical supply in the US and other nations is plagued by stresses. There are ever-present threats to pharmaceutical supply chain security like drug counterfeiting, cargo theft, and falsified medicines, all of which pose a serious risk to public health and safety. There are also many processes involved in accounting for the quality and integrity of products in pharmaceutical supply and in complying with good manufacturing practices, the pharmaceutical quality system, and serialization and track and trace requirements.
The combination of these stress factors is provoking pharmaceutical companies to question whether it is more important to keep costs associated with pharmaceutical supply as low as possible or focus more attention on building resilience into the supply chains their business depends on. Progressive firms are investing in and adopting new pharmaceutical supply chain solutions to streamline and automate operations and improve supply chain visibility, flexibility, and agility—all of which are critical for achieving greater resilience.
Monitoring, tracking, and optimizing pharmaceutical supply
One technology that organizations are now using for pharmaceutical supply chain optimization is the internet of things (IoT). Firms in the healthcare sector can use IoT sensors and analytics software to track products moving through the supply chain—in manufacturing facilities, warehouses, health systems, and pharmacies.
Organizations use IoT sensors to obtain granular visibility into product conditions in transport and storage, monitoring and controlling temperature for pharmaceutical cold chain management, and to gain actionable insights into the supply chain. They can use these and other digital technologies to identify and eliminate inefficiencies and improve the reliability of pharmaceutical supply.
Ensuring pharmaceutical supply through the digital supply network
The technology that is expected to have the most transformative effect on the pharmaceutical supply chain is digital networking technology. TraceLink's cloud-based digital supply network allows firms across the healthcare sector to connect and share data and insights seamlessly and continuously. The TraceLink's digital supply network is a secure, scalable virtual supply network that brings pharmaceutical supply partners together on one platform, facilitating communication among stakeholders and improving transparency and accountability across the supply chain. It helps foster collaboration and supports shared workflows through its multienterprise work management capabilities. Partners on the network get real-time visibility across their value chains and the information they need to better forecast demand, optimize inventory, and ensure on-time and in-full delivery of pharmaceutical products. They can build a proactive and versatile supply chain that can handle the unique challenges of personalized medicine and next-generation treatments.
Pharmaceutical Supply FAQs
How can artificial intelligence be used in pharmaceutical supply?
AI can be used to accelerate the drug discovery process, streamline inventory management, and optimize automation in warehousing and logistics. By extracting insights from vast amounts of data, AI and machine learning technologies can help organizations transform processes throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain, supporting and enhancing supply and demand forecasting, procurement automation, and inventory optimization.
How can firms in the healthcare sector use AI to ensure continuity in pharmaceutical supply?
Companies can ensure continuity by creating an intelligent pharmaceutical supply chain that leverages digital network platforms and AI-driven analytics software. These tools can be used to help organizations aggregate and analyze pharma serialization data as well as data from enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and other business applications. They can also be used to increase visibility and accountability across the pharma supply chain, enabling and encouraging firms to work together to ensure the safe, efficient, and stable supply of pharmaceuticals.
What are some weaknesses in pharmaceutical supply?
The biggest weaknesses in the pharmaceutical supply chain is a lack of visibility that makes it difficult for organizations to identify and quickly adapt to unexpected changes or disruptions. Additionally, the fragmented nature of the pharmaceutical supply chain has resulted in the proliferation of information silos that hinder collaboration and data sharing among supply chain partners.