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The future of the medical supply chain

Supply chain flexibility is key to personalised healthcare in the future

Trade Reimagined

Over the past five years, innovations in medicine have driven bespoke treatments so that healthcare providers can deliver more relevant and impactful care. From a supply chain perspective, it presents unique challenges in preventing shortages, procuring products accurately and providing consistent last-mile delivery, especially when health and well-being are on the line.

Personalisation is the future

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested capabilities, flexibility, and limitations of the global medical supply chain as demand for specific, limited components led to serious initial shortages. In April, a survey of 6,000 members of the British Medical Association showed major shortages in critical PPE. As manufacturers expanded and new players entered the market, we witnessed an adaptation to difficult circumstances at a truly remarkable pace. Yet this emerging flexibility in the face of a pandemic is only step one in the long-term path to recovery, one that will involve personalised care and solutions for thousands of symptoms across the millions affected and recovering.

Personalised medicine, because it is based on each patient’s unique genetic makeup, is beginning to overcome the limitations of traditional medicine, and its importance will only increase. Increasingly, it is allowing health care providers to shift the emphasis in medicine from reaction to prevention, predict susceptibility to disease, improve disease detection, pre-empt disease progression, customise disease-prevention strategies and prescribe more effective drugs.

Personalisation is far from unique to medicine

Advancements and shifting demand in e-commerce has paved the way for significant enhancements in logistics capability, meaning supply chains are better suited to deliver personalised goods. In a recent report, Gartner highlighted this historic change, and what may lay ahead: “tailoring products to individual customer's needs is nothing new for supply chains, taking that to higher levels is a key differentiator for more advanced companies.” While the medical economy may have initially been a beneficiary of broader supply chain shifts – moving forward, it now needs to become a driver.

However, the specific challenges faced within medicine require infrastructure different from that of the standard e-commerce economy. To keep up with digital trends, for example, consumer-oriented retailers have started using larger cargo ships to move vast quantities of stock and ensure demand can be met at distribution. For personalised medicine, however, the need is increasingly oriented around smaller quantities of high-value goods delivered to meet timelines and conditions that are significantly more demanding; in medical goods with strict temperature requirements, a fluctuation as minor as 2 degrees Celsius can reduce or even eliminate effectiveness.

The infrastructure that, for decades, has moved towards larger vessels, is not set up to meet these demands. There is a need for fleets of smaller ships designed for speed and more specific quantities. DP World’s Unifeeder and FeederTech acquisitions are designed to stay ahead of this shifting demand, optimising speed and response for shorter supply chains, while also serving as key spokes in larger blue sea operations. Booking and tracking reefer capacity within this network adds an additional level of capability, one of the keys to success in the medical supply chain.

Digitisation will be more important than ever

In addition to these physical changes, the continued development of digital infrastructure is critical. DP World is leveraging its considerable global physical infrastructure with a sophisticated digital capability to delivery streamlined end-to-end supply chain solutions for customers that could not be provided by asset-owners or third-party logistics providers alone.

Our recent partnership with TradeLens adds to this capability, integrating blockchain to provide earlier visibility of container flows across multiple carriers. This means that medical goods in transit can be monitored around the clock and cargo owners can plan for necessary intervention in the case of unexpected delays or temperature fluctuations. This effective use of Blockchain offers a foundational step forward for the level of accountability, fluidity, and accuracy of the detailed, high-value nature of medical supply.

As the acquisition of data is coupled with blockchain technology to manage the validation of goods, cargo owners will be better placed to order more accurately as well as ship faster and do so more frequently. This shift in behaviour will allow for the reduction of stock held in warehouses and subsequent wastage, lead to a significant increase in the speed that goods can get from origin to destination, and allow for more personalisation of goods, alleviating a whole host of bigger issues for shippers and distributors.

Successfully bringing personalised medicine to the mainstream market requires industry expertise and a rigorous control process coupled with advanced technology. When personalisation is a matter of life or death, so is the supply chain that supports it.