The life sciences industry has grown into its current form by addressing unmet healthcare needs with scientific rigor and steady technological evolution. Now the sector faces disruptive forces on both sides of that equation, with new care challenges and new technology-driven tools with which to address them. The result is likely to be a transformation in the way medical products and services are produced, distributed and consumed.  

This disruptive environment has particularly profound implications for healthcare supply chains. They are the topic of a new report from DHL, which looks at the way an evolving patient-centered healthcare approach will require more complex, capable and cost-effective supply chains, and how technology is helping those supply chains to become a reality. 

The report identifies six key trends and technologies that healthcare supply chains can leverage to help the sector thrive in an environment where demand is set to rise faster than the funds available to pay for it.

Data analytics (big data)

Healthcare providers are increasingly turning to data to make more informed decisions about the management of their operations. The development of powerful analytical systems allows participants in every part of the healthcare system to mine multiple sources of data, from network-connected diagnostic devices to patient records, and use that information to predict changes in demand for products and services. The same technologies are cutting costs and improving efficiency in logistics and supply chain operations, ensuring products are delivered by the most cost-effective and reliable routes, for example.

The internet of things

IoT-enabled tagging technologies will enable tighter control of product inventories across the supply chain, reducing loss and waste while increasing service levels and availability. Stronger links between physical products and data will also aid the industry in its ongoing battle against theft and counterfeiting. New product serialization and identification technologies will aid the tracking of products through the supply chain, allowing end users to verify the source of their products and facilitating the management of product lifecycles.  

Direct delivery models (on-demand delivery)

Manufacturers will build up direct delivery models to respond to increasing online and home care channels. The online pharmaceutical market will grow to $128 billion by 2023. These trends open up new opportunities for manufacturers while requiring new delivery concepts, especially an increase in direct-to-consumer delivery models. Life sciences manufacturers will also go further downstream into hospitals to enable on-demand delivery of devices from medical parts to surgery kits.

Robotics and automation

To meet increasing complexity and service requirements without adding excessive costs, healthcare supply chains will turn to advanced automation solutions to reduce the labor required in repetitive tasks, from the picking of products in warehouses to the sorting and analysis of laboratory samples. In logistics operations, aerial drones will be used to enable faster, cheaper last-mile deliveries in remote areas.  

Augmented reality

Data needs to be accessible to be useful. New ways of displaying and presenting information will make supply chain operations more accurate and more efficient, and support faster, more effective management decision-making. Perhaps the most exciting of these technologies are augmented-reality systems that present relevant information or instructions in the user’s field of view. These technologies have potential application in a host of areas, aiding the selection of the right product from warehouse shelves, for example, or providing frontline medical teams with relevant patient information at a glance.  

Additive manufacturing

As treatments become increasingly personalized, new manufacturing technologies will enable medical devices and even drugs to be manufactured on demand using advanced 3-D printing systems. These technologies won’t just change treatments, they could also transform supply chains, with more products manufactured close to the point of use and the development of new, decentralized production networks. 

The report is available for download at: dhl.com/futurelsh

Published: June 2017

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