Artificial intelligence, extended reality and blockchain are some of the most talked about emerging digital technologies. While not typically associated with the healthcare industry, these technologies are having a big impact on the supply chain of pharmaceutical products.

To meet the expectations of today’s patients, supply chains need to be smart, connected and agile so they provide an efficient and personalised patient experience. Companies that don’t implement digital technologies put themselves at risk of being unable to do the one thing that matters most: better serve their patients.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration recently said logistical difficulties, recalls, manufacturing issues and unexpected increases in demand were the main causes of shortages between January and August this year, highlighting the need for global companies operating in Australia to rethink how they can make their supply chains more efficient.

So what digital technologies are having the most impact and how are they being implemented within the healthcare industry?

Artificial intelligence

It is no secret that healthcare companies have access to large amounts of data, which is where the true value of AI can be shown in the industry. The inventory management process is particularly data rich, which is why life science companies are adopting AI.

AI can resolve employee questions about supply by tracking unused medical supplies, therefore helping to minimise excess inventory. It can also help to decrease the length of time it takes for an employee to search for medical supplies by providing its exact location and automating future orders and delivery.

Accenture recently worked with a global pharmaceutical company to automate their inventory process, resulting in cost savings of approximately $480 million. Furthermore, the manual effort associated with the inventory process was reduced, allowing employees to have more time to carry out higher order activities.

Extended reality

Recently, Sanofi announced that each of its super modern plants would have a “digital twin” - a three dimensional computer model of the actual plant connected directly to all the sensors and data in the physical factory. The digital twin allows the plant’s manager to have remote access to real time data and the company to make data-driven production decisions and adjustments as needed.

In this environment, scientists, operators and technicians can focus on improving manufacturing processes and ensure the quality of medicines for patients. By eliminating, repetitive and manual activities, the risk of human error is also reduced.

Blockchain  

In the healthcare industry, blockchain allows different companies along the supply chain to share data securely, allowing products to be traced. This data provides a valuable forensic trail should quality issues arise after delivery of an item.

If a manufacturer identifies a problem with a device or pharmaceutical product, blockchain could help the vendor expedite the recall process by quickly determining the location of inventory across the supply chain, therefore keeping it out of further circulation.

Digital supply chains and patients

More than ever before, patients can benefit from supply chains that use digital technologies.  

Imagine patients with leukemia who are benefitting from a CAR-T cell therapy: contrary to other cancer treatments, CAR T-cell therapy require T-cells to be taken from the patient’s body then altered in a lab and then infused back into the person to kill the cancer cells.

Cell therapy products are living drugs and their viability is highly sensitive to handling and environmental conditions such as temperature through the supply chain. If a treatment is lost, it is not possible to send for a replacement from stock. Therefore, having a highly efficient, time critical and intelligent supply chain is crucial.

Next steps

According to our recent research, approximately half of life sciences executives globally report that one of the top challenges to implementing digital technologies is inadequate technology skills among employees.

To solve the labour shortage, companies can look to the broader technology ecosystem to source the technological skills required to operate technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. Alternatively, they can focus on upskilling their workforce and the research shows 80 per cent of industry supply chain executives are focusing on nurturing existing talent. By putting their staff through training that steeps them with a “digital mindset and capability” companies can prepare their workforce.

To have the greatest impact, life sciences organisations should align their supply chain technology investments with their overarching business strategy. By identifying their challenges, they can then see how digital technologies are able to provide a solution.

Dhannu Daniel is Accenture’s ANZ Life Sciences Lead  

 

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