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Streamlining pharma supply chains with digital solutions: Benefits and challenges

Anubha Dixit
Wednesday, June 28, 2023, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Pharma industry plays a critical role in ensuring availability of essential medicine and healthcare products. However, the complex nature of the pharmaceutical supply chain poses significant challenges in terms of efficiency, transparency, and patient safety. In recent years, especially during the pandemic, the healthcare industry experienced the necessity of a digitally powered supply chain mechanism to ensure timely dissemination of medical supplies and support healthcare professionals to serve the patients better by offering exact and timely treatment.

Disruptions to the supply chain are not just limited to unprecedented events like the pandemic. Unfortunately, the industry has to cope with these difficulties throughout the year, which causes the provision of critical care tools, medicine, vaccines, and other items that affect people's health and wellness to be delayed. One can only imagine the sufferings of those who live in places where timely medical supplies are necessary at a specific time, yet it is challenging to guarantee that due to supply chain concerns.

Given the importance of timely delivery of medical supplies, it is imperative for the sector and other important players to identify ideal ways to minimize supply chain disruptions and put such solutions into practice. To ensure the timely and safe delivery of shipments, they need to implement critical processes in their supply chain.

Thanks to the rapid evolution in the technology space, particularly in the digital tech solutions, minimising or completely removing the hurdles of the supply chain seems quite possible. Reliable technological solutions can be used by the companies in charge of overseeing the complete supply chain to get improved results. The healthcare sector can take a number of actions to guarantee complete transparency for product consignments and build a strong and resilient supply chain structure.

Many of the persistent issues with managing the pharmaceutical industry's supply chain, such as compliance, traceability, end-to-end visibility, error-reduction, quality assurance, and process efficiencies, can be addressed through supply chain digitalisation, or rather digital transformation. Considering the vast land, huge population, and the obligations to ensure healthcare services for every citizen, digitalisation of the supply chain is inevitable for India. There are challenges, however, the key stakeholders must take appropriate measures in this regard to reap the benefits of today’s state-of-the-art digital solutions in creating a future-proof pharmaceutical supply chain system.

Advantages of digitally integrated supply chain system
Enhanced visibility & traceability: Digital solutions provide enhanced visibility and traceability throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain. By leveraging technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT), block chain, and real-time tracking systems, pharmaceutical companies can monitor and track the movement of products from manufacturing facilities to end-users. This increased visibility enables better inventory management, reduces the risk of counterfeit products, improves regulatory compliance, and enhances accountability within the supply chain.

Cost reduction: Implementing digital tech solutions to the pharmaceutical supply chain can help streamline processes, eliminate manual and paper-based tasks, and reduce operational costs. Automation of repetitive tasks, such as order processing, invoicing, and inventory management, leads to improved productivity and cost savings. Moreover, optimising transportation routes and logistics through digital tools can reduce transportation costs.

Efficient inventory management: Digital solutions offer advanced analytics and predictive algorithms that enable efficient inventory management in pharmaceutical supply chains. By leveraging real-time data and demand forecasting, companies can optimise inventory levels, minimize wastage, and avoid stock outs. Accurate inventory planning ensures the availability of critical medications, reduces costs associated with excessive inventory, and enables healthcare providers to meet patient needs more effectively.

Streamlined logistics operations: Digital solutions streamline logistics operations in pharmaceutical supply chains by automating and digitising processes. Through improved coordination between manufacturers, distributors, and healthcare providers, orders can be processed faster, resulting in reduced delivery times. Real-time tracking systems enable better monitoring of shipments, proactive problem-solving, and minimal delays. These streamlined logistics operations contribute to cost savings, improved efficiency, and enhanced customer satisfaction.

Improved collaboration & communication: Digital solutions facilitate seamless collaboration and communication among stakeholders within the pharmaceutical supply chain. With digital platforms, manufacturers, suppliers, regulatory authorities, and healthcare professionals can easily exchange information, coordinate activities, and make faster decisions. Enhanced collaboration ensures timely responses to product recalls or safety concerns, reducing risks and improving patient safety. Effective communication enables better coordination, streamlines processes, and enhances overall supply chain efficiency.

Enhanced data analytics & insights: Digital solutions enable pharmaceutical companies to harness the power of data analytics for informed decision-making. By collecting and analysing data from various touch points within the supply chain, companies can gain valuable insights into customer behaviour, market trends, and operational performance. These insights help optimise business strategies, identify areas for improvement, and drive continuous innovation in supply chain processes.

Demand forecasting & supply planning: Digital solutions equipped with data analytics and machine learning capabilities can analyse historical sales data, market trends, and other relevant factors to generate accurate demand forecasts. This helps pharmaceutical companies optimise their production and supply planning, ensuring the right quantity of drugs is available at the right time. It minimizes the risk of stockouts, prevents overproduction, and enables proactive management of demand fluctuations.

Improved cold chain management: Many pharmaceutical products, such as vaccines and biologics, require specific temperature-controlled conditions during storage and transportation. Digital solutions enable real-time monitoring of temperature and humidity levels, ensuring compliance with cold chain requirements. Any deviations can be immediately detected, triggering alerts and enabling timely corrective actions to maintain the integrity of temperature-sensitive products.

Improved regulatory compliance: Digital solutions assist pharmaceutical companies in ensuring regulatory compliance throughout the supply chain. By automating documentation processes, maintaining accurate records, and implementing track-and-trace capabilities, companies can easily demonstrate compliance with regulatory standards. Digital solutions enable efficient recall management, batch tracking, and adherence to serialization requirements, thereby reducing the risk of non-compliance and associated penalties.

Challenges in the path of creating a robust supply chain system
Data security & privacy: One of the primary concerns in implementing digital solutions is ensuring the security and privacy of sensitive data. Pharmaceutical supply chains involve confidential information, including patient data, intellectual property, and regulatory documentation. Companies must adopt robust cyber security measures to protect against data breaches and unauthorised access. Implementing encryption techniques, strict access controls, and regular security audits can help safeguard sensitive information and maintain data privacy.

Legacy systems & infrastructure: Pharmaceutical supply chains often rely on legacy systems and outdated infrastructure, which may pose compatibility challenges when integrating digital solutions. Upgrading systems, standardizing data formats, and investing in modern infrastructure can help overcome these challenges. Companies may need to invest in technology upgrades and collaborate with IT experts to ensure seamless integration and interoperability across various platforms and systems.

Change management & workforce adoption: Introducing digital solutions requires a significant shift in organizational culture and workforce skills. Resistance to change and lack of digital literacy among employees can hinder successful implementation. To address this challenge, companies must provide comprehensive training programs, communicate the benefits of digital solutions, and foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning. Involving employees in the implementation process and soliciting their feedback can promote acceptance and engagement.

Regulatory compliance & standards: Pharmaceutical supply chains are subject to strict regulatory requirements and standards. Implementing digital solutions while adhering to regulations, such as serialization and track-and-trace requirements, can be complex. Companies need to ensure that digital solutions comply with relevant regulations and standards. Collaboration with regulatory authorities, engagement with industry associations, and thorough understanding of regulatory frameworks are essential to navigate compliance challenges effectively.

Integration & interoperability: Digital solutions often involve integrating multiple systems, platforms, and stakeholders within the pharmaceutical supply chain. Ensuring seamless interoperability among these components can be challenging. Companies should prioritise compatibility and data exchange standards when selecting digital solutions. Adopting industry-wide standards, leveraging application programming interfaces, and collaborating closely with technology providers can facilitate smooth integration and interoperability.

Cost & return on investment: Implementing digital solutions in pharmaceutical supply chains may require substantial investments in technology, infrastructure, and training. Companies must carefully assess the costs associated with implementation, maintenance, and ongoing support. It is essential to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the return on investment and long-term financial viability. Identifying potential cost savings, efficiency gains, and improved customer outcomes can help justify the investment and align it with business objectives.

Digital solutions have the potential to significantly alter pharmaceutical supply chains by enhancing efficiency, visibility, and collaboration. The benefits of enhanced visibility, efficient inventory management, streamlined logistics operations, and improved communication outweigh the challenges associated with implementation. Adopting digital solutions will improve patient outcomes, drug availability, and regulatory compliance in addition to streamlining supply chain operations. The pharmaceutical sector must fully utilise the potential of digital solutions to optimise its supply chains and provide better healthcare services with ongoing technological breakthroughs and a commitment to innovation.

(Author is founder and CEO of Tongadive)


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