Businesses in the healthcare sector are facing an ever-changing environment. In this dynamic sector, the industry must focus on innovations that address higher turnaround times in next-generation supply chains when responding to emergencies. The pandemic was one such emergency where a regular supply of vaccines has become the need of the hour.
Before COVID, drugs were produced, transported to their final destination, and distributed further. A major product launch was always seen as a big deal. Carriers had to follow strict protocols. But even by the stringent standards of healthcare, the level of scrutiny during COVID-19 is unprecedented. As with many other areas of our world, COVID-19 has shown both the vulnerability of our way of life and the power of our supply chain to succeed and deliver when it could have failed.
Today, the Indian healthcare sector is poised at a very interesting stage. As the acknowledged pharmacy of the world, our aim has been to become a global supply hub, not just for the developed countries, but also for the emerging and under-developed nations. Like other industries in the supply chain, the trends in the pharma supply chain reveal a decided push towards technological innovation and adoption. The whole supply chain management is getting integrated with track and trace moment of medicines. There is a huge rebooting or restructuring of the entire healthcare supply chain management which is happening currently.
Automation for Greater Efficiency: Our industry has many tools for tracking and monitoring freight. These range from the standard onboard computers reporting the location, direction, and hours of service by the driver to more complex temperature-monitoring systems that have risen to prominence during this crisis. Warehouse operations such as packaging remain one of the most labor-intensive steps in the supply chain. However, with the rising implementation of warehouse-automation technologies such as autonomous mobile robots and aerial drones, manual processes are fast becoming redundant and less prone to human error. Automation can encourage pharma companies to handle fast-changing multichannel and Omni-channel requirements efficiently while supporting same-day and next-day delivery.
Machine Learning: Many pharma companies are taking advantage of digital technologies, including cloud, robotic process automation, and the Internet of Things. This can be leveraged for ‘smart’ products that result in better prescription adherence and more accurate dosage. It can also support new supply chain capabilities, like real-time shipment tracking that ensures products are delivered on time and in the correct conditions. Analytical technologies, like AI and cognitive computing, have also helped gather insight from the deluge of large and diverse data sets. Even retail pharmacies have started investing in Artificial intelligence (AI) tools to improve service, cut costs, and optimize stock availability. The goal is to improve patient access to virtual care via mobile devices, using AI analytics to find the most efficient way to share medical information between patients, healthcare providers, and treatment centers.
Warehousing: To ensure that goods are distributed from large warehouses across India, companies need to ensure that they create good storage and good distribution practices. Apart from ensuring appropriate practices during transport, these measures are also necessary when the goods reach the stockist and the retailer’s Smart technologies in ensuring optimum storage and distribution conditions. Companies have to increase their investments in monitoring and enforcement technologies to ensure that the right quality reaches our patients. They need to ensure that they are using the right network of suppliers, vendors, distribution partners, and the best ERP solutions. Transparency in operations, manufacturing, material management, and supply chain must be followed at retailers and the stockist levels as well. From a completely fragmented ecosystem, which means to say multiple manufacturers, distributors CNF Agents, and retail pharmacies all running differently and separately on multiple different software and databases, the system is taking now a quantum leap to a fully integrated real-time ecosystem. Companies such as Awacs, Pharma Rack and live connect are making significant gains in this direction.
To reach our full potential and to ensure greater democratization towards healthcare access, we must give a stronger push to technological adoption across the pharma industry. In the supply chain, it has the ability to bring higher efficiency, a wider reach, while ensuring constant vigilance. While there is some presence of digital tools in the supply chain, many of these are still following legacy systems. Hence, there is an urgent need to boost modernization while nurturing technological innovations.