Wireless Technology In The Hospital Supply Chain
Written by Emily Couch
The hospital supply chain has been trying to pull alongside its counterparts in the retail and manufacturing industries when it comes to the implementation of wireless technology in their facilities. A hospitals supply chain is one of the most complex operations within the hospital. The adoption of wireless technology as a means to manage and lower the cost of hospital supplies and streamline the management of the supply chain is becoming a hot topic at the forefront of the healthcare industry. The goal of reducing cost while providing high-quality medical care is a top strategic objective.
When trying to lower annual cost and save money, one of the first steps any healthcare facilities should take is to look at all aspects of their supply chain. On average, one-third of their budget is allocated to supplies, which is only second to labor cost. Conventionally hospitals only used logistics software to track and manage high-cost elements; in today's economy it dictates that organizations should use software tools to identify any elements that could be causing them to lose money.
Putting The Emphasis On Software
It is critically important to rely on data collection tools. In the nations unpredictable economy it is imperative for hospitals to examine every part of their supply chain for any possible areas of cost savings. All supply chain categories, including information technology, facilities and purchased services, should be accounted for. Cost savings can come from unlikely places and that’s why relying on supply software to analyze your supply chain is more effective and less subject to human error.
When hospitals widen their search for savings in the supply chain, they need to employ different tools and networks to do so effectively. For most organizations it is not cost efficient to have multiple employees with high levels of expertise on staff. The ideal situation would be having supply chain experts on staff to help their facilities to better manage their supply chain and inventory. Instead, healthcare providers should consider using supply chain software and wireless technology that can aid in discovering any issues or potential cost saving shortcuts.
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The main purpose of introducing wireless technology into a hospitals supply chain if for cost reduction through inventory management. Electronic medication administration and reporting systemsalong with automated drug dispensing systems can help manage the amount of drugs being dispensed and to whom. Having a more precise system of tracking drugs and where they are going leaves less room for human error.
Inventory management systems can adequately track all inventory in the hospital from surgical supplies to high end machinery. In the past hospitals did not pay as much attention to lower end inventory, but it came to light that savings on the lower end inventory can save hundreds of thousands in the annual budget.
Visibility Within The Supply Chain
The savings of time is at the helm of this issue. Generally speaking an individual lacks the visibility of their entire supply chain. With the implantation of mobile devices all aspects of the supply chain are right at their fingertips while they move about the hospital. Up-to-date inventory reporting, ordering and notifications are instantaneously. The user no longer has to go back to their desk to access and update valuable information, improving their work flow.
The value of implementing wireless technology to a hospitals supply chain can cut down on wasted time, money and resources. Ensuring the right people and wireless technology is employed to manage a supply chain is just as vital as the supply chain itself. Establishing a governing supply chain council will provide direction and help align supply chain strategies with the hospitals overall strategy. This governing council should be lead by the leader of the supply chain organization as well as corporate executives, business unit managers, and other influential company leaders.
Overall, a reduction in data inaccuracy, increased cycle times and decreased supply chain cost, can be the direct benefits of employing wireless technology into a hospitals supply chain.
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.