Supply chain disruptions have widespread ripple effects in many industries, but in healthcare they can be critical. Shortages, delays, and other unforeseen events in medical supply chains can result in patients not having the medication they need or insufficiently equipped hospitals. Such disruptions are a problem in any sector, but in medicine, it can be a matter of life or death.
Considering how mission-critical these systems are, it’s only natural that the medical supply chain will evolve. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed how today’s supply chains fall short, and the medical industry will adapt in response. Here’s a closer look at what this will look like.
What will remain the same?
The medical supply chain of the future will resemble todays’. While there’s room for improvement, some aspects of current health care logistics systems will continue to be useful long into the future.
The health care industry is ahead of other supply chains in its adoption of artificial intelligence (AI). For example, one solution called CognitiveRX uses AI to predict supply chain strain for pharmaceutical products. These insights help doctors make more informed decisions about what medications to prescribe patients or alert medical companies to prepare for potential shortages.
Using AI in this way will remain a relevant practice for years to come. Similarly, the use of internet of things (IoT) sensors to track medical devices or medications throughout the supply chain will continue. If any change comes to these factors, it will be more widespread adoption.
What will change?
One of the most notable improvements will be a move away from just-in-time (JIT) shipping and production models. While these practices -- which aim to get deliveries at the last possible moment -- reduce waste most of the time, they make supply chains volatile.
A JIT model quickly falls apart when something like the Covid-19 pandemic delays shipments or stops production. Consequently, more medical supply chains in the future will move away from these models, keeping more on-hand inventory. Similarly, supply chains will use distributed sourcing and re-shore or near-shore production facilities to become more resilient.
Future medical supply chains will embrace new methods to fight counterfeit parts and products. More extensive IoT tracking and blockchain-based verification will become standard to help verify shipments are coming from authentic sources.
Cybersecurity will also be a more prominent concern in medical supply chains tomorrow. Health care cyberattacks rose more than 55 percent in 2020, and supply chains are often vulnerable. In response to these growing threats, future medical supply chains will feature more extensive cybersecurity controls, including higher standards for partners and suppliers.
Moving toward the medical supply chain of the future
A common thread runs through many of these changes: increased technology implementation. Future supply chains in the medical industry will rely more heavily on digital technologies like IoT, AI, blockchain and network monitoring. As such, organizations that invest in these technologies now may see more success in the future.
These supply chain changes could take place soon or take years to bring about their improvements. Which way it will happen depends on how much medical supply chains today embrace Industry 4.0 technologies. If health care organizations hope to move towards the future of logistics, they must look to these innovations.
Medical supply chains are changing
The supply chain is critical across all industries, but especially in medicine. Covid-19 has revealed how volatile current medical supply chains are and how destructive that can be. However, it has also revealed the way forward.
Medical supply chains tomorrow will move away from unsustainable business models and embrace new technologies. The companies that can successfully do so today will be the supply chain leaders of tomorrow.