Improving the healthcare supply chain: Innovative companies tackling the challenge

Rachel Marley, MSc

Contributor at HealthcareTransformers.com

Improving the healthcare supply chain: Innovative companies tackling the challenge

24 August 2022 | 6min

Quick Takes

  • The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted and exacerbated some of the existing inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the extremely complex healthcare supply chain systems.

  • Several companies have stepped up and have developed innovative new ideas on ways to improve the supply chain, from inventory management to procurement to delivery.

  • These companies are using digital technology to not only improve the efficiency of their operations and drive cost-savings, but also ensure that the supply chain is more resilient and crisis-proof in the future.

The pandemic’s silver lining to improving healthcare supply chain inefficiencies 

Behind the day-to-day scenes throughout varying healthcare settings, is a complex network of manufacturers, distributors, and delivery services. From medicines to tests, from lab equipment to bandages, this healthcare supply chain works day and night to ensure that frontline healthcare workers and providers have the equipment they need when they need it for their patients.

Like any complex network, there can be inefficiencies and bottlenecks in the healthcare supply chain. This has become all the more evident with the COVID-19 pandemic, which laid bare some of these weaknesses1 – whether it be ensuring adequate supplies of high-quality diagnostic tests, masks, and other protective gear, or treatments for hospitals, capacities and capabilities have been stretched to – and perhaps in certain cases even beyond – their limits.2, 3 

To our advantage, the relentless march of technology is well-placed to help address some of these issues, and there are several companies, from startups to established players, who are making strides to improve the efficiency, speed, and quality of various aspects of the healthcare supply chain. 

Let’s take a closer look at a few of these companies, and what kinds of solutions they are bringing to improve the healthcare supply chain.   

6 companies innovating the healthcare supply chain

Promedeo: Smart cabinets for smart medical inventory management

Challenge: In the best of times, hospital pharmacies are challenged to stock the necessary medicines and distribute them quickly and efficiently. This challenge becomes even more acute during a crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic, when the pressure on the pharmacy to have sufficient stock rises significantly. 

Solution: French startup Promedeo has developed “smart” medicine cabinets that are able to track usage of medical inventory using technologies like Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), barcodes, and holograms. These cabinets help hospitals to better organize and even automate the task of supply. 

By using the RFID tags and barcodes as a way to track inventory levels and usage in real-time, hospital pharmacies using these smart cabinets are better able to track where their inventories are being used and eliminate losses, while at the same time reducing lower-value work, such as manual counting, allowing staff to focus on high-value tasks instead.  

To learn more, visit the Promedeo website

ConnectSx: End-to-end inventory visibility

Challenge: Oftentimes, surgical equipment relies on outdated tools for inventory control, which can lead to costly errors, lost and expired inventory, and massive surgical waste. 

Solution: The US-based startup ConnectSx provides software solutions to hospitals that help to address these challenges in the medical device supply chain. The startup’s mobile application allows users to scan, identify and categorize surgical equipment based on RFID. 

Using their vTrakr mobile app, hospital inventory managers can track their surgical and medical device inventory in real-time via an intuitive mobile interface. No matter where they are, they get reports on the surgical inventory used in the operating room and can manage it. In addition, it tracks the lifecycle of medical devices to monitor and reduce surgical waste.

To learn more, visit the ConnectSx website.

Hystrix Medical: Simplifying procurement by going digital

Challenge: Hospital supply procurement is a labor-intensive task that often uses outdated tools, requiring end-users to manually manage their supply ordering processes with multiple vendors using tools like excel. This was exacerbated during the pandemic when massive volumes of PPE were suddenly required to cope with an influx of COVID-19 patients. 

Solution: Swiss-based Hystrix Medical has created a B2B platform for contracting medical products. This digital platform connects buyers of medical products in Switzerland – hospitals, elderly homes, medical practices, dental clinics, rehabilitation clinics, emergency service providers, and more – with manufacturers, sellers, and distributors of certified medical products and services. 

This solution allows buyers and sellers to have a single location to share price and product data and allows them to digitally negotiate, close, and manage contracts. Throughout the pandemic, this system also helped facilitate large volume transactions of medical products reliably, safely, and with transparency.

To learn more, visit the Hystrix website.

Zipline: Delivering critical medical supplies with drones

Challenge: In many parts of Africa, people living in poorer, rural regions may lack access to basic healthcare, and supplying and delivering medicines, vaccines, and other healthcare supplies to the clinics on which these populations rely can be daunting due to poorly maintained or underdeveloped road networks. 

Solution: US company Zipline is targeting this “last mile delivery” challenge via the air.  The company builds and maintains pharmaceutical-quality warehouses and distribution hubs. From these facilities, a fleet of autonomous drones are able to supply an unlimited number of points of care within a certain radius. 

These reusable aircraft are able to deliver vital blood supplies, medicines, vaccines, and more directly to a customer, when and where they need it. The entire operation is linked to a data management system that provides real-time feedback on inventory levels and performance. 

To learn more, visit the Zipline site

Veratrak: Ensuring digital supply chain integrity and security

Challenge: Managing supply chains within healthcare often means exchanging sensitive information between companies and suppliers, and among supply chain networks. This is often done using siloed, non-secure emails or file sharing. With the increased move to digital and cloud-based systems, this can lead to risk with regard to poor document visibility, exposure to cyber crime, and increased lead times.

Solution: UK-based startup offers a Software-as-a-Service (saas) platform to streamline document exchange processes across supplier networks. This provides a single platform for all complete supply chain network members, allowing them to securely and transparently share critical documents.

Veratrak’s solution helps mitigate any risks from version control issues that may occur from disorganized and lengthy email chains, allowing all actors to have a view to the latest versions at all times. Documentation can also be centrally reviewed and digitally signed, helping to reduce lead times and streamline processes. Cybersecurity is a top priority, leveraging GAMP5 guidelines and compliant e-signatures, and blockchain technology to ensure secure auditability of all documents. 

To learn more, visit the Veratrak website

ZirconMed: Using AI to help analyze warehousing and shipments

Challenge: The COVID-19 outbreak challenged healthcare supply chains around the world, and placed significant strain on the movement of medical equipment and supplies, which were much needed. Medical device companies, with their multi-layer, global supply chains, were especially impacted. The primary mitigation measure, holding extra inventory, proved generally insufficient to protect the supply chain from shocks. 

Solution: Adopting digital solutions that automate more of their processes, providing up-to-date, real-time information, can help make the overall system more robust. Singapore-based supply chain specialist ZirconMed uses artificial intelligence to help their customers more accurately trace the movement of their products. Using pricing data related to freight and ports, ZirconMed’s AI can recommend adjustments, providing actionable intelligence that drives better business and purchasing decisions. 

To learn more, visit the ZirconMed website. 

Future-proofing to prepare for future supply chain disruptions

Right now, there remains much uncertainty about the reliability of global supply chains in general, healthcare among them, driven by the coronavirus pandemic. What is clear is that, in order to restore trust, companies need to take action that not only helps mitigate the challenges today but also helps to future-proof these supply chains against unknown disruptions tomorrow. 

The companies highlighted above, and many more, are proactively leveraging the flexibility and power of digital technology to help to create the more intelligent and dependable supply chains needed for healthcare products worldwide. These tools and solutions not only provide companies the opportunity to improve the efficiency of their operations and implement cost-saving measures, but they also help to make sure that the supply chain is more resilient and crisis-proof. This in turn means that patients will receive the healthcare products and services they desperately need, when they need them, no matter the situation.

To find out more about how the healthcare industry has grown and changed thanks to the COVID-19 Pandemic, then check out our recent eBook: Diagnostics in the spotlight: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rachel Marley, MSc is a contributor and editor at Healthcaretransformers.com. She is dedicated to delivering high-quality content on the topic of the future of healthcare to our readers.

References

  1. Mirchandani, P. (2020) Ann Intern Med. 2020 May 5 : M20-1326. Available online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219430/ [Accessed March 2022]
  2. Mahmoodi, F et al. Supply Chain Quarterly. (2020) Available at https://www.supplychainquarterly.com/articles/4417-covid-19-and-the-health-care-supply-chain-impacts-and-lessons-learned [Accessed March 2022]
  3. World Health Organization. March 2020. News release available at https://www.who.int/news/item/03-03-2020-shortage-of-personal-protective-equipment-endangering-health-workers-worldwide [Accessed March 2022]