How emerging technologies are modifying the healthcare supply chain?

Market Overview

Supply Chain Management market in Healthcare is expected to grow at a CAGR of more than 10% by 2025, mainly driven by ever-increasing demand due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare supply chain is the most complex and fragmented among all industry sectors because healthcare is the only industry that is not dependent on demand and supply. It is not only dealing with the collection of essential goods but also with some of the life-saving products, including vaccines, medicines, surgical items, and medical equipment.

Supply chain management is one of the largest expensive business functions for healthcare service providers. As predicted by The Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management, the supply chain costs will surpass labour costs for the number one position by the end of 2020. Also, in the times of recent pandemic, healthcare service providers are facing an exponentially increasing number of cases and shortage of medical supplies. The primary reason for this breakdown is over-dependency on traditional ways for supply chain management and lack of awareness about the emerging ways to deal with such crisis.

For healthcare services providers, it is their priority to look for emerging technologies and methods for managing their supply chains efficiently. According to a study by Navigant Consulting, hospitals could save an average of 17.7 per cent or $11 million per hospital annually by streamlining and standardising their supply chain processes.

Impact of COVID-19 on Healthcare Supply Chain 

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exposed various flaws in the supply chain across the healthcare sector. With the ever-increasing demand of medical supplies, hospitals and governments were not able to meet the demand of PPE kits, gloves, oxygen supplies, ventilator machines, and other essential goods, and patient services. Most of the world governments and healthcare service providers could not maintain the financial stability to manage their supply chains.

This situation has helped healthcare leaders and hospital networks realise the importance of innovation and alternative ways of working towards supply chain management. They have also started looking to drive the supply chain for achieving cost and operational efficiency. As we advance, their primary focus would be to – 

  • Develop a more efficient procurement process to manage such pandemic situations
  • Reduce costs to achieve decreased revenue
  • Achieve more visibility into the inventory across the healthcare value chain
  • Use of advanced technologies to gain better tracking and traceability and to reduce risks
  • Get faster distribution with minimal costs and reach out to maximum population as possible in case of vaccination.

This can be achieved only by using some of the emerging technologies, including IoT, Blockchain, Big Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, and AI/ML. Many governments have started their developments in this direction. An example of such actions is the Government of India, which has launched AarogyaPath platform in June 2020. It is a web-based solution for the healthcare supply chain portal. It will provide real-time availability of critical healthcare supplies for manufacturers, customers, and suppliers. The integrated public platform will provide single-point availability of essential healthcare goods which will be helpful to customers in tackling several routine issues. With time, analytics of this platform has been expected to generate early signals to manufacturers on looming shortages or over capacity.

Impact of Emerging Technologies on Healthcare Supply Chain

The most effective solution to manage the complex and fragmented healthcare supply chain is the use of emerging technologies. Technology plays a pivotal role to provide advanced planning, synchronisation, and collaboration across the supply chain process. Creating an advanced technology in healthcare supply chain have been driving efficiency and help contain costs while improving quality and care. Some of the emerging technologies that impact the healthcare SCM include Intelligent AI and Analytics, Internet of Thing (IoT), Blockchain, and 3D Printing.

Artificial Intelligence and Analytics

AI is used in areas such as decision support for traditional inventory management. It has changed the way healthcare providers used to manage, interpret and analyse the data that they collect from various sources. Also, data analytics has shifted from descriptive to predictive and prescriptive analytics, which allow them to predict future events and decide the next course of action based on that intelligence. 

Internet of Things (IoT)

The sensors within IoT devices, measure things such as location, movement, temperature, humidity, and many other factors. The prominent feature of IoT-based decision making is the ability to get quick and frequent feedback. Due to the automated collection and instantaneous sharing of data, an IoT-controlled system can take several small actions, measure outcomes, obtain feedback, and make corrections based on the input. 

Blockchain 

The immutability of Blockchain or Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) enables healthcare providers in tracking and tracing the supplies efficiently and securely. It helps in preventing delays and any possible frauds. Blockchain provides product traceability across the value chain – starting from the raw material provider to OEMs or manufacturers to the hospitals and healthcare providers with detailed information about every step, without any risk of data tampering or fraud.

3D Printing

Earlier, customers had to wait for weeks and months for their products to be manufactured and delivered at their doorstep. Still, now with the help of 3D printing technology, it is possible to produce the required products in mass, and that is also with the personalisation. Healthcare is one of the emerging sectors that has adopted the 3D printing technology for various surgical items, and it has seen an increasing adoption during the pandemic times. 3D printing technology will help streamline the supply chain across the healthcare value chain with mass production for quality care.

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