The Current State of the Global Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Research conducted by Zebra among a global audience of over 3,500 patients and pharmaceutical industry decision-makers (across Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America) has evaluated perceived supply chain stability, gauged supply chain responsibility and trust in its entities, and identified needs for improving supply chain visibility and transparency. Pharmaceutical industry decision-makers in Zebra’s research are defined as:

“executive-level leaders in healthcare, manufacturing, pharmacy retail, or transportation and logistics organisations who maintain operations in the pharmaceutical or biopharmaceutical supply chain.”

The current state of the global pharmaceutical supply chain has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended businesses across every industry and posed unprecedented challenges to every entity of the pharmaceutical supply chain, and the industry as a whole.

It exposed and precipitated the vulnerabilities of the global pharmaceutical supply chain like never before – from drug shortages to quality issues and price volatility – and the need for pharmaceutical enterprises, manufacturers, logistics providers and healthcare organisations to future-proof themselves against them.

Zebra’s Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Vision Study found that patients and pharmaceutical decision-makers share the same concerns regarding the global pharmaceutical supply chain, and that a collective effort to keep the chain secure is a responsibility shared between those who manufacture, distribute, administer and regulate medications.

The study demonstrated that the pandemic has inspired newfound awareness in patients worldwide around the realities of these issues, and the impact that this can have on their health. 

As a result, patients want pharmaceutical enterprises to exhibit more transparency and meet their demand for more information, and better quality education surrounding their medications.

This is reflected in the statistic that 81% of patients reported heightened interest in how their medications are manufactured, handled, stored and transported because of the pandemic.

The study proved that are still high levels of concern regarding the levels of patient trust in the entities within the pharmaceutical supply chain, and this sentiment is also shared among industry decision-makers:

39% of patients completely trust pharmaceutical supply chain entities

44% of industry decision-makers completely trust pharmaceutical supply chain entities

The emphasis is therefore on the entities of the pharmaceutical supply chain, as well as the decision-makers to pinpoint the issues which are stymying the trust building process and rectify them.

Technology Investment Drives Supply Chain Resiliency

An intensified focus on healthcare, precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and an ever-shifting regulatory environment has accelerated the need for increased transparency across the full pharmaceutical supply chain, from raw materials to patient delivery.

Patients and decision-makers agree that technology holds the key to safeguarding these chains against new regulations from governments and industry agencies, future disruptions and chargebacks for medications. 

Technology ultimately allows the entities within the supply chain to shift to more predictive and responsive operations, and set stronger foundations which build supply chain resiliency.

92% of industry decision-makers and 86% of patients agreed with this sentiment.

As a consequence, industry decision-makers are now investing heavily in, for example, track-and-trace technologies to provide end-to-end visibility, streamline operations and achieve compliance. 

Advanced technology it is now an area of both priority and investment for pharmaceutical-enterprises:

89% of pharmaceutical-enterprises plan to increase IT spending within the next year, with 42% indicating the increase will be more than 10% and 92% plan to increase IT spending on supply chain monitoring tools.

Pharmaceutical-enterprise believe that by enhancing the capabilities of their devices and software through advanced technological investment it will enhance productivity, add invaluable visibility to the supply chain, and provide the security to future-proof operations.

The surveyed industry decision-makers rated the top five benefits they believe technology provides the supply chain:

  1. Ability to detect and respond to risk posed by counterfeit or substandard products
  2. Keeping patients safe from compromised medications and other products
  3. Improving team productivity and workflow conformity
  4. Increasing product/asset visibility and utilisation
  5. Enabling informed real time decision-making and regulatory compliance

Transitioning From Reactive to Predictive Operations Via Technology

The study found that both patients and decision-makers are aware of the potential negative consequences of an unstable supply chain more than ever. Two areas were of particular concern:

The first being medication quality and efficacy due to improper storage, related principally to refrigeration and temperature control.

The second being the risk of illness and possible death due to contaminated, tainted, falsified or counterfeit medications making their way into the supply chain.

Industry decision-makers therefore prioritised the top five technologies that addressed these concerns by increasing the visibility and traceability of the global supply chain.

These technologies lead the way for supply chain entities to transition from reactive to predictive operations in order to reduce elements of risk:

  1. Temperature-sensitive labels and item/batch level monitors
  2. Location technology
  3. Temperature monitors and sensors
  4. Mobile barcode labels and thermal printers
  5. Rugged scanners and the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies

Picture Source: Zebra

(Photograph by Zebra)

Improving Track & Trace Across The Supply Chain

As online pharmacy activity continues to grow, particularly due to the pandemic, it creates additional challenges and stresses to the global supply chain.

As such, the study has proposed that the entities within the pharmaceutical supply chain ensure the ease of arranging shipping and delivery, and protect temperature-sensitive medications throughout the journey, particularly during the last mile to reach the patient.

By increasing pharmaceutical track & trace across the supply there will be a reduction of the risks associated with handling, transportation and storage, particularly when it comes to temperature-sensitive medications.

Clearer inventory visibility and powerful devices like handheld mobile devices and thermal label printers are also becoming increasingly important to deliver faster and more efficient fulfilment, whilst adding to the security of these processes.

Conclusion

To surmise, complete patient trust in the pharmaceutical supply chain entities is relatively low. Improved collaboration between decision-makers, enterprises and regulatory agencies could inspire greater consumer trust while building an industry better prepared to address future public health crises.

Enterprises ultimately realise that the power of technology must be utilised effectively in order to enhance every aspect of the global pharmaceutical supply chain, and they also realise the need to provide patients with more (as well as better) quality information to educate them better and build trust.

If you’d like to learn more about how we help a range of pharmaceutical & healthcare distributors manage their logistics operation more effectively, and provide track & trace across the supply chain, why not schedule a demo with us?

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You can also download the study here: https://connect.zebra.com/pharmavs_us_en