Supply chains have seen significant modernization in recent decades, in many cases as a direct response to rapidly accelerating technologies that continue to change the game. Even so, the medical device supply chain continues to be constrained by a wide range of factors, making it more difficult to take advantage of tech advances than other industries like retail or agriculture. Because of this, the need to make supply chains sustainable and resilient in the face of catastrophic events has become both acute and overly complex.
With the rise of pioneering supply chain giants like Amazon, Walmart, and others, we’ve seen how efficient supply chains can be; and that has driven expectations for performance and cost-efficiency to new heights. Still, modern healthcare supply chains are intricate logistics networks and present unique challenges not necessarily faced by consumer goods. According to Emergo, “The Medical Device supply chain has another layer of complexity from just the sheer volume of product SKUs, various long and short lifecycles, security issues, sustainability issues, and related challenges.”
For instance, trying to accommodate for patient-specific treatments, transport and delivery of temperature-controlled biologics, accessing rural areas to deliver and service medical device inventory, and emergency medical needs are just a handful among many factors that make building a sustainable, connected supply chain in healthcare so challenging. All of this drives risk when you consider that natural disaster or pandemic can dramatically increase the need for immediate access to medical supplies while simultaneously constricting the capacity of the supply chain to deliver – a reality we now know all too well.
Perhaps one of the most obvious risks associated with the medical device supply chain is simply running out of product or the raw materials needed to produce more. If a manufacturer runs out of product, they risk impacting the lives of patients, but they also may take a hit to their market share as consumers switch to comparable (or acceptable alternative) products. In response, some in the industry have adapted by sourcing from multiple providers of raw materials and/or multiple manufacturers.
In spite of the many issues facing our medical supply chain, the need for capacity building is evident. A stable and streamlined supply chain will be key to the strength of our healthcare system in the decades to come. And it all starts with data: inventory data, movement data, usage data, etc. Data unlocks business potential, enables efficiency, mitigates risk, accelerates innovation, and promotes meaningful outcomes. Confronting the challenges in our medical device supply chain is no longer an option; solving those challenges will mean starting with meaningful information. And that is something worth wrapping our arms around.