COVID-19 and the global pandemic that followed in its wake have illustrated all of the ways that the medical supplies distribution supply chain is vulnerable – and to what extent. It was the perfect storm of being caught unaware and unprepared, as the manufacturing and shipping industries suffered from their own logistical nightmares.
The results also illustrate what can go wrong and what effect they can have.
These last few years have caused the world to look long and hard at the healthcare industry and healthcare logistics technology. Experts predict that the medical supplies industry will continue to grow by 4.5% CAGR, eventually reaching $192.95 billion by 2028.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the ways that technology is solving some of the healthcare industry’s most pressing problems.
Common Healthcare Logistics Problems for the Medical Industry
Let’s start by looking at some of the most pressing logistics challenges facing the medical industry. We can’t learn how tech can solve common pharma logistics and medical logistics problems if we don’t know what they are.
In 2021, the American Health Organization (AHA) issued a statement about the importance of good healthcare distribution. 270,000 doctors and over 2 million caregivers expressed how medical distribution is vital for their ability to do their jobs and save lives. It’s also an essential component in running a financially viable medical business.
Cold Storage Shortage
If the healthcare industry has any hope of preventing future global pandemics, it needs to address the shortage of cold storage facilities. Cold storage is vital for mass vaccination. Without proper storage facilities, pharmaceutical logistics break down.
This is especially true in developing nations. Many developing nations lack ample cold storage for mass vaccination. This puts the entire world at risk.
As of June 2022, only 70% of the world’s population had received the COVID-19 vaccine. These numbers are partially due to the lack of cold storage in Asia.
Cold storage is the heart of mass global vaccination. Pandemics are a global concern. The supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Logistics providers need to think in a holistic manner to ensure the entire chain is robust and ready for anything.
Cold storage is also a good example of how tech is responding to the pharma distribution industries. One reason North America had such a fast response once vaccines were available was FedEx’s cold storage infrastructure. As a response to COVID-19, they added ten more facilities to their network.
These additions are also an example of how tech facilitate medical distribution. Each of those facilities needs to be continually temperature monitored to ensure proper storage. Additional cold storage at air transport hubs help to keep the supply chain as robust as possible, as well.
Supply and Demand
Disruptions in pharmaceutical logistics are also caused by surges in demand. The surge brought on by the Omicron variant in Asian put unprecedented pressure on the global medical distribution network, for example.
This isn’t only due to a lack of supplies. Vaccine shipments also take up valuable shipping space.
This is a problem as Asian countries make up half of the world’s largest medical supply manufacturers.
Tech can address supply and demand logistics on several fronts. The first step relies more on the official bodies that deal with global pandemics. Preparation needs to be the focus as much as damage control, though.
We need the same vigour for producing protective medical supplies and vaccine needs in times of health as well as sickness.
Additional storage solutions will help reduce these medical logistics, as well. So will more inter-continental flights. This way, medical couriers will have more options.
The lesson medical logistics providers can take away from the supply and demand issues is that the medical industry must prioritize resilience. Medical tech needs to eliminate bottlenecks in the medical distribution chain. It needs to prioritize having multiple options to prevent the supply chain from breaking down, as well.
Lack of Education
Lack of information can also cause issues with healthcare logistics. Improperly trained couriers can cause the supply chain to break down – as can the system becoming flooded and overwhelmed. This can even cause delivery errors, sometimes even causing a package to get lost.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerability that human labour brings to the supply chain. Humans are prone to error, for one thing. Humans can also get sick, which can put their whole network at risk.
Luckily, there are numerous tech solutions that can vastly improve this network. Technology can deliver vital information to medical couriers, for instance. It can also ensure that information is reliable and that it’s been received.
Extensive package tracking can also address many of these medical distribution issues. Scanning packages at multiple steps throughout the supply chain to help reduce the risk of lost or damaged packages.
It can also yield a vast wealth of useful data to further optimize the medical supply chain.
There are numerous opportunities for medical logistics providers to address these issues with tech. Extensive package scanning needs to be set up, for one thing, as there are sometimes more than 20 million medical shipments each day. All of these scans need to be stored somewhere, as well, so extensive data storage is also needed.
Expensive and Time-Sensitive Merchandise
Many materials handled by healthcare logistics technology is prohibitively expensive. It’s also some of the most delicate merchandise you can ship, as so much of it has extreme sensitivities like vulnerability to movement, light, or temperature fluctuation.
Increased monitoring helps to prevent expirations, as well.
Higher Delivery Costs
Inefficiency in the medical delivery industry drives up prices. An inefficient tracking system can cause unnecessary processing, for example.
Healthcare logistics keep incidents to a minimum. This also helps to keep prices down, as an additional benefit. It can also lead to unnecessary returns.
These issues drive up prices for providers and customers alike.
Many medical providers have a complex network of couriers and clients all over the world. This can result in a fragile infrastructure that is easily broken. Logistics providers can end up using stop-gap solutions like enlisting their own employees to make deliveries, as a result.
Customer expectations are higher for medical providers than nearly any other industry. Understandably so, as their health is literally on the line.
Customers expecting a medical delivery expect incredibly accurate ETAs, for example. This is particularly true of B2B medical businesses.
B2B businesses can sometimes have complex configurations, as well. Multiple accounts might have the same address, for example. Healthcare logistics often need advanced tracking and scanning solutions as a result.
Real-time monitoring solutions can help eliminate many of these issues. Data visualization solutions may also be needed to help understand the vast amount of data produced by scanning and tracking. This data will also help to prevent future outbreaks and supply chain shortages.
Common Delivery Management Software Features
As we have seen, the healthcare and medical supply chains are quite complex. As a result, tech solutions built for pharma logistics and medical logistics can be a lot of different things depending on what issue they’re tackling.
To help you make heads or tails of the delivery management software that’s currently on the market, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most common features you’re likely to find in today’s healthcare logistics solutions.
One thing COVID-19 revealed was the fragility of the medical supply chain. Whole links could be broken in the wake of a COVID outbreak. Vital links in the healthcare distribution supply chain might be disrupted due to a lack of storage or transfer capacity.
Any of 100 different things could go wrong at any time. Often, they did, and the world’s medical industry paid the price.
Healthcare logistics allow you to plan new routes in numerous different ways. The ability to create both static as well as adaptable routes lets your organization prepare for anything.
2. Alternate Route Planning
Delivery management software lets you create contingency plans that let you prepare for any eventuality. You can create backup plans and backups for your backups. This is essential to prepare for any future pandemics or global outbreaks.
Delivery management technology lets you prepare for these potential complications by allowing you and your team to create alternate delivery routes. Even better still, many of these solutions are API-based. You don’t even need to sign into a central hub or website.
This makes these features available to anybody, without being reliant on proprietary apps or software being installed.
Delivery management software allows you to create multiple delivery routes, as well. You can even configure these routes around disparate hubs, so your supply chain is as robust and ready for anything as possible.
3. Hub Operations
Healthcare logistics give you everything to maintain your hub operations, as well. You can scan and track shipments by pallet down individual. Linehaul ASN visibility lets your customers know the status of their order, in real-time.
Robust OS&D capture features keep detailed records and reporting of any errors of shipment such as damaged packages, also. This greatly increases transparency in the supply chain, while simultaneously boosting data accuracy.
4. Last Mile Delivery
How frustrating is it to have your deliveries make it all the way through the entire supply chain without incident, only to have that system breakdown a few blocks before its final destination?
As is so often the case in life, close isn’t good enough. Good delivery management software needs to take last mile services into consideration if they hope to be effective.
You can assign your best drivers for sensitive deliveries, for example. It equips those drivers with everything they need, as well, such as Bluetooth scanners to track OS&D and returns.
Some delivery management software allows you to create fully-fledged static routes for your most common delivery destinations. You can even optimize these routes using modern solutions like rules-based or optimization-based route allocation, to make sure your final mile deliveries are as protected as possible.
Last mile delivery software reduces confusion and uncertainty in the medical supply chain, as well. It often features built-in scanning features, sometimes requiring nothing more than a smartphone camera. It’s not uncommon for last mile delivery software to accommodate Bluetooth scanners or OS&D.
Software for last mile delivery easily accommodates pick-ups and returns, as well. This gives last mile delivery professionals the same tools and resources as a long-haul medical courier. It also ensures that your customers are as satisfied as possible, as they get the same excellent service as they do from their normal couriers.
One of the best ways to ensure superior service for your customers is with tracking features. This way, your customers and clients know exactly what to expect. Tracking software makes medical tech work just like other common delivery software so your customers will be familiar with the UI.
A lot of medical tech software features both real-time tracking updates as well as predictive ETA. This lets your customers know when they can expect their deliveries, which does a lot to enhance the customer experience.
A tracking feature also allows the courier to communicate with clients directly. This way they can resolve any issues they have enroute, eliminating any delays or confusion.
Customers can sign up to receive updates from their driver via email or SMS, as well. This means they’re not reliant on third-party apps. This improves the customer experience greatly, as well.
Finally, medical tech’s tracking features let you keep a strict eye on the entire chain of custody. This accounts for shipments down to individual cartons. This allows you to account for every single package in a shipment, so you know where each package has been during every stage of its journey.
This is mandatory for medical shippers dealing with controlled substances such as prescription narcotics. Failure to comply can be elicit expensive fines, as well.
6. Reporting and Analytics
It’s vitally important you know how your medical business is operating. This means robust reporting and analytics features are a must.
Delivery management software often has analytics and reporting features for your hub. This acts as a central dashboard for all your deliveries, for one thing. It also keeps track of any shipment errors or delays.
Delivery management software also charts driver’s performance. You can keep track of the percentage of completed deliveries. It also lets you see how many were completed on-time and in full (OTIF).
Driver analytics let you identify areas in your supply chain that can be improved. It also allows you to reward exceptional performance, which boosts company morale.
Finally, reporting and analytics features allow you to see how your entire network is performing. You can see the volume of your entire network. You can also see the percentage of returns.
Network analytics provide invaluable historical data. This lets you chart your network’s performance over time, as well, so you can continually fine-tune and optimize your medical deliveries.
How Tech Solves Common Medical Logistics Issues
We’ve already seen some examples of how tech might address some future medical issues. Let’s finish by focusing on some specific opportunities for medical logistics providers.
These are some of the common issues faced by healthcare logistics technology has run into the past few years. It’s important to get a grip on these issues now, as the next pandemic will undoubtedly deliver some fresh surprises.
The beginning of the pandemic made the weaknesses in the global supply chain all too apparent. In the first weeks and months, shelves were bare of everything from cleaning supplies to toilet paper. Not only does this make it difficult to contain the outbreak without proper disinfectant, but it also creates an atmosphere of anxiety and panic.
There was also a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). This led to further breakdown of the supply chain, as workers got sick, and facilities were quarantined.
It is essential that medical logistics providers respond quickly during health emergencies. This means more medical manufacturing during times of wellness. It also means having storage facilities for both medical supplies and vaccines.
Robust monitoring solutions are also needed. You need to know exactly where a package is at any given time. It’s vital to remove as much uncertainty from the supply chain as possible.
Inventory monitoring is important, as well. You need to know what you’ve got on hand at any given moment. This will alert you to any potential shortages before they happen.
It is vital that vaccines and other medical supplies be stored properly. Improperly stored vaccines could potentially be worse than no vaccine at all.
If someone thinks they’ve been vaccinated, they may drop the precautions and go about their lives. The risk of infection rises rapidly in such instances.
Proper vaccine storage comes with its own medical logistics issues, though. Many of these medications can be brand new, with little information or experience handling them.
Medical techs can address these potential issues in a variety of ways. More cold storage facilities are the first and most obvious way that the healthcare industry can prevent these issues. Additional cold storage units may be installed at airports, as well, so action can be taken quickly during times of crisis.
Healthcare technology can also be used to disseminate vital information to medical couriers. You might implement some sort of verified delivery system, for instance. This way, you can ensure that all the necessary workers have seen and understood the current protocols.
Supply chain monitoring can also help prevent many of these issues from becoming a problem in the first place. This is particularly true with real-time monitoring, as you’re alerted to problems as soon as they occur. This lets you respond far more quickly in times when response time is of the essence.
Having real-time monitoring solutions in place across every stage of the delivery chain can reduce the probability of potential to virtually zero.
We’ve discussed several reasons why errors can occur in medical distribution. This can range from human error to technical malfunctions.
Having robust health care logistics in place can eliminate nearly all of them. It also illuminates any potential issues that might occur with detailed monitoring and accurate record keeping.
Medical distribution logistics can bolster your distribution network in numerous ways. End-to-end monitoring is the most obvious but that’s just the start. Real-time delivery status alone is enough to bring accuracy rates up to 99.5%.
Carrier scorecards also help to bolster the delivery network. Detailed carrier notes introduce valuable feedback into the delivery network. This way, clients can select the most trustworthy carriers when it matters most.
Delivery Management Technology Benefits
Let’s finish up by taking a quick look at some common benefits that come with using delivery management software. This will help you make up your mind if you’re still deciding if delivery management technology is right for you.
1. Complete Visibility
Accountability is more important in medical technology than in nearly any other industry. You need to know where packages are at any given moment, where they’ve been, and when they’re going to arrive.
End-to-end visibility lets you keep your customers informed during every stage of the delivery. It also helps keep both you and your couriers informed and in the loop.
2. Updated Carrier Scorecards
For important deliveries, you want to prioritize your best couriers. Delivery management technology often features real-time scorecards for each of your couriers.
These scorecards rank everything from completed deliveries to how many were OTIF. These scorecards also allow you to work with couriers to help them achieve peak performance.
3. Predictive ETA
Keeping your customers informed and up to date is essential for customer satisfaction. It’s the difference between the wide window appointments of a cable company and the to-the-second accuracy of food delivery apps.
Predictive ETA helps keep everybody in the loop, so they know the status of their delivery as it’s happening. It helps them plan their busy day which will definitely elicit fond feelings of gratitude towards your company.
4. Improved Accuracy
Being able to monitor every component of your supply chain eliminates virtually all uncertainty. It removes all the guesswork, so you know where your packages are at any given moment.
Delivery management software can boost accuracy rates up to 99.5%.
5. Reduced Customer Inquiries
Your staff and delivery drivers have better things to do than to field customer calls and emails. This is especially true if they’re unnecessary and easily avoided.
Delivery management technology removes virtually all unnecessary customer communication. This is accomplished by offering real-time updates and predictive ETA times.
6. Saves Money
Delivery management tech can save you money in a variety of ways. It greatly reduces the number of lost packages, for one thing. It also reduces the amount of lost returnable assets.
Delivery management software also helps your network work at peak efficiency. You can make sure your couriers are operating at optimal performance. You can ensure your hub is operating at its full potential.
7. Eliminates Busywork
Do you really want to have to collate all your data for every quarterly report? Delivery management technology makes this a thing of the past. Thanks to analytics and reporting features, data can be easily exported for reporting, data visualization, or advanced sales and marketing analytics.
The last two years have made it obvious that technology is mandatory for properly treating global health issues. We can make sure that something like COVID-19 never happens again when we’re prepared.
Are You a Healthcare Logistics Provider?
You’ve got the most important job in the world! You’re here to help all of us stay safe and healthy. It’s vital you’re able to do your job!A supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you’re a healthcare logistics provider, sign up to request a demo to find out how tech can help you prepare for any eventuality.