FEATURED STORY OF THE WEEK
Eight Emerging Digital Solutions in Healthcare Logistics
The healthcare industry is under pressure to improve patient outcomes while reducing costs. Some
opportunities in these areas lie within healthcare supply chains, where “during the pandemic, supply
chain leaders worked the front lines alongside clinicians, suppliers, and other stakeholders to address
questions around resiliency, product availability, and safe substitutions," SupplyChainBrain reports: “For
supply chain professionals, the near-term focus should be on the redesign of the healthcare supply
chain… around improved patient satisfaction, safety, and outcomes.”
Healthcare manufacturers are turning to digitization and automation within their logistics operations to
meet those demands. But challenges remain in how pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers
can best improve product tracking, leverage data, align stakeholder interests, and coordinate with
downstream supply chain partners including healthcare practitioners themselves.
This article discusses the current state of healthcare logistics and identifies some of the major challenges
faced by manufacturers today. It also explores opportunities for improvement, including digitization of
the supply chain and building better relationships with downstream partners.
Benchmarking Global Healthcare Logistics Today
The healthcare supply chain is a complex and often opaque network of manufacturers, distributors,
hospitals, and other stakeholders. Collectively and individually, these partners face a wide range of
challenges that impact business and even health outcomes for patients themselves. These include:
- Regulatory challenges. Regulations vary from country to country and can be extremely complex.
Regulations including Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs), Hazard Analysis Critical Control
Point (HACCP) and the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA). The DSCSA in particular is a
recent regulation that imposes significant compliance requirements on healthcare
- Special handling requirements. Meeting the special handling and shipping requirements of
healthcare products is another challenge. For example, many healthcare products must be
shipped under refrigeration or in isolation. It’s difficult to hold logistics partners accountable in
some cases; supply chain disruptions often make appropriate handling difficult and therefore
put inventory at risk.
- Supply chain monitoring. Modern demand warrants ongoing monitoring and optimization of
conditions that ensure the timely and safe delivery of medical products to destinations where
they arrive at the right time of need. For example, countless patients require medications they
cannot go without even for a day; poor monitoring means logistics partners can delay shipments
without the awareness of manufacturers ultimately responsible for those timely deliveries.
- Inventory management. Medical products are often customized to meet the needs of individual
patients. Manufacturers must develop countless unique SKUs for their products as a result. This
can make inventory management difficult and can lead to stockouts and other supply chain
- Cold chain management. As suggested, cold chain management is a critical component of
pharmaceutical logistics, and yet it remains one of the most challenging. Once the global COVID-
19 pandemic took hold, cold chain management became even more difficult. The need to ship
healthcare products under refrigeration or in isolation increased, as did the complexity of the
cold chain process. In addition, many healthcare manufacturers were forced to re-evaluate their
cold chain operations considering the pandemic.
These are only a few of the complex challenges within healthcare supply chains, which also include
issues with supply chain visibility and communication among supply chain partners, among others.
Digital Supply Chain Solutions That Improve Outcomes for Patients
Several recent initiatives can improve transparency and collaboration within healthcare supply chains.
Digital solutions such as track and trace systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and
warehouse management systems (WMS) are at the forefront of this transformation. In addition,
digitization can help healthcare manufacturers to comply with regulations such as the DSCSA.
Here are just a few of the opportunities for healthcare manufacturers to digitize their operations and
improve product logistics:
1. Track and trace systems. By digitizing product tracking and tracing, healthcare manufacturers
can improve supply chain transparency and collaboration.
2. Communication and Collaboration. Healthcare manufacturers can improve communication and
collaboration with their downstream partners using digital technologies such as enterprise
resource planning (ERP) systems and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. By
digitizing communication and collaboration, healthcare manufacturers can improve the
efficiency of their operations and reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions.
3. Data Analytics. Data analytics can help healthcare manufacturers to understand the trends and
patterns in their product shipments. In addition, data analytics can help healthcare
manufacturers to identify opportunities for improvement in their operations. Advanced
capabilities such as predictive analytics can be used to predict demand for healthcare products
and to forecast inventory levels as well.
4. Blockchain. Digital ledgers can help track the movement of healthcare products through the
supply chain. This technology has the potential to improve supply chain transparency and to
reduce the risk of product recalls. Nearly half of healthcare manufacturers “have already
deployed blockchain (44%) and predictive analytics (44%), while most remaining respondents
plan to deploy these technologies in the next 12 months,” a recent survey by WBR Insights
5. Intelligent serialization. Intelligent serialization is a technology that uses data to track and trace
healthcare products through the supply chain. This technology can help healthcare
manufacturers monitor and account for individual units and comply with regulations such as the
6. Robotics process automation (RPA). Robotics process automation (RPA) is a technology that
uses software to automate repetitive tasks. This technology can be used to automate order
entry, invoice processing, shipping, and countless other otherwise time consuming, labor-
intensive processes that constitute modern healthcare supply chains.
7. Contracts automation. Much like RPA, contracts automation can improve the efficiency of
healthcare manufacturers’ operations and to reduce the risk of contract violations. Contract
automation both reduces opportunities for human error and ensures the timely completion of
contracts to avoid real logistics disruptions due to clerical problems.
8. Internet of Things (IoT) GPS trackers. This technology enables manufacturers to gain real-time
visibility into the location and condition of goods while they are in transit. This information can
be used to improve the efficiency of healthcare product logistics and reduce risks associated
with inventory loss.
Digitizing healthcare products logistics in these ways can improve supply chain transparency, improve
communication and collaboration with partners, and ensure manufacturers and their partners better
understand trends and patterns in product shipments. Most importantly, they better align supply chains
with patient outcomes—the ultimate responsibility of manufacturers and their partners.
Building Momentum for New Digital Healthcare Logistics Solutions
Manufacturers’ most immediate challenge is coordinating successfully with downstream partners to
bring these solutions into effect. Indeed, one of pharmaceutical manufacturing logistics leaders’ biggest
complaints is a lack of fervent communication on the part of their downstream partners.
For example, news of shipment problems often arrives to manufacturers too late, effectively devaluing
their products or even causing them to expire before delivery. In fact, “refrigerated equipment issues
(52%), airport delays or port congestion (49%), and route deviations (47%) are their top three challenges
to ensuring cold chain products maintain their validated conditions,” WBR Insights reports.
Healthcare manufacturers who work with a logistics consultant who can understand their specific needs
can develop tailored solutions that integrate seamlessly with their downstream partners, often where
those logistics partners are most lacking. It’s through these proactive relationships that healthcare
manufacturers can realize the benefits of new digital technologies based on their unique product,
shipping, and end-customer needs.
Partner with Uvation as you Digitize Your Healthcare Supply Chain
At Uvation, we have a team of experts who can help you to digitize your healthcare product logistics,
improve your downstream supply chains and build better relationships with your supply chain partenrs.
Contact one of our healthcare logistics experts today for a free consultation.