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How to Achieve a Patient-Centric Supply Chain with IoT

by Alex Maxwell, Vice President, Life Sciences and Healthcare, DHL Supply Chain, Asia Pacific

For life sciences and healthcare companies in Asia Pacific, the region is a complex beast. It is home to nearly 3.7 billion people, which makes up more than 50 per cent of the global population. By 2025, the region’s medical technology market is expected to hit a value of US$190bn while the ageing population is expected to grow to 1.1 billion people. The region also accounts for two-thirds of the global disease burden caused by major chronic respiratory ailments.

While there is a huge market for life sciences and healthcare services, meeting these demands can be difficult. One of the main reasons is the diversity of market segments. Each country presents its own challenges in terms of geography and population spread. In countries like India and China, extending healthcare services to rural regions can prove particularly difficult. Vast distances, challenging terrain, and poor transportation infrastructure hamper logistics efforts. As a result, many underdeveloped areas suffer from low availability of healthcare services.

Financial concerns also discourage patients from adopting several healthcare offerings. Asia Pacific customers are more frugal in their spending as many economies are still developing. For example, annual healthcare expenditure per capita was US$367 in China and US$107 in Indonesia. This is a far cry from those in the US and UK, which were US$9,145 and US$3,598 respectively. In India, many are unable to afford the high costs of healthcare. The Indian government estimates that high healthcare costs drive as many as 63 million Indians into poverty annually.

The region also suffers from a lack of life sciences and healthcare talent. For instance, the Singapore government estimated that the nation requires 30,000 more healthcare professionals to take care of its ageing population by 2020. In Vietnam, there is only an average of seven to eight healthcare workers for every 10,000 Vietnamese—drastically lower than the global average. This shortage could decrease the quality of care, resulting in longer waiting times and limited patient-physician interactions.

Creating a patient-centric supply chain with Internet of Things

In order to treat these market ailments, it is important to rethink the way organisations operate their healthcare supply chains. With new innovations in the realm of Internet of Things (IoT), a cure can be quickly realised. Advancements in medical devices, sensors, and logistics technologies can shape supply chains to better suit the growing needs of patients and requirements of organisations in the life sciences and healthcare sector.

Reaching out with mobile medical technologies

Life sciences and healthcare organisations can take advantage of the recent emergence of mobile healthcare technologies. There is immense potential for these innovations to push the boundaries of medical offerings and break the limitations imposed by distances. Treatments like haemodialysis have been mobilised so patients living in remote areas with kidney diseases do not have to travel far for their dialysis. These mobile capabilities can be extended to diagnostic devices as well, broadening the types of healthcare options available for this unreached market.

Equipped with these highly portable solutions, companies can work with supply chain experts to deliver them rapidly to patients. Transport fleets today can also be outfitted with the latest sensors, allowing logistics operators to optimise fleet utilisation and plan routes strategically to ensure that treatments are delivered in the shortest time possible.

Improve the efficiency of healthcare services

The power of IoT also allows life sciences and healthcare companies to achieve more with less. Sensors on mobile treatment and diagnostic devices collect important patient data and feed them back to a cloud-based central database. This saves healthcare professionals tremendous amount of travelling and administrative time. With patient information being channelled to them instead of the other way around, professionals can focus on what they do best—diagnose and prescribe treatments for patients.

At the same time, IoT allows companies to facilitate device upkeep, ensuring that they are constantly in tip-top condition for patients. Sensors can provide critical updates about devices for maintenance. They can notify logistics providers to send replacement parts as soon as a fault is identified. Remote clinics can also apply this technology to alert supply chain operators to replenish medical supplies when they run low. Overall, these efficiencies will bring down operating costs and product wastage, allowing companies to control their budgets better.

Adopt a proactive approach to patient treatment

Over time, companies can respond more intelligently to patient requests and emergency situations as more data is collected. Life sciences and healthcare companies can have a bigger picture of patient conditions and epidemiological patterns, empowering them to create better services and deliver treatments proactively. For instance, collated patient data can help practitioners keep track of the number of cases for a particular disease, which can allow them to prepare for or prevent a potential outbreak.

In terms of logistics, operators can streamline the supply chain from endto- end. They can optimise medical inventories to ensure that supplies are easily accessible and adequately stocked. RFID technology can also help operators identify temperature requirements of certain drugs. This allows them to allocate trucks with temperature-controlled environments to ship these products so that they are ready to be administered upon arrival.

Build a healthcare supply chain that cares

IoT has the potential to streamline the supply chain so it is more sensitive to patient needs. As the countries in Asia Pacific continue to develop, patient demands will only grow more complex over the next few years. It is time for life sciences and healthcare companies to explore the possibilities of IoT to vaccinate against operational inefficiencies, logistics issues, and rising operating costs.

About the Author

Alex Maxwell is DHL Supply Chain’s regional business development lead in Asia Pacific. Based in Shanghai, China, he oversees a portfolio across the region, which covers 132 customers, in 14 countries occupying in excess of 500,000 sq. metres of warehousing space. The Life Sciences and Healthcare sector generated around 18 per cent of DHL Supply Chain’s annual revenue in 2015. Alex has over 20 years’ experience in the logistics industry, 14 of which has been in Asia Pacific working in the Life Sciences and Healthcare sector, based out of Hong Kong, India, and Shanghai. He has been with DHL Supply Chain since early 2012. Prior to that, he worked for major pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis, Dade Behring Diagnostics and Fenwal Blood Technologies.

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