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The future of healthcare supply chain

February 12, 2021
From the January/February issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Takshay Aggrawal

Supply chains have long been part of the unsung backbone of the economy — the process, often invisible to consumers, that moves mountains of products from their origin to manufacturers, to distributor, and finally to customers.


With the world now focused on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, medical suppliers, distribution sites, etc., are gearing up for the logistical challenges of its shipping and distribution, and the healthcare supply chain has entered public consciousness like never before.

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Its successful distribution will need to be built on a functional, end-to-end supply chain and logistics systems as well as effective storage, handling, and stock management; rigorous temperature control in the cold chain; and maintenance of adequate logistics management information systems.

As the pandemic revealed, however, there are vulnerabilities and weaknesses in global supply chains and supply chain planning across virtually every sector and industry. Traditional processes follow linear steps and handoffs between multiple internal functions and external partners, which can limit collaboration and impede timely decisions. Now more than ever, we need resilient, agile and intelligent global supply chains.

Therefore, here are FIVE topics that every healthcare supply chain leader should be focused on for 2021 to help power responsiveness and flexibility, so they are better prepared for future unforeseen disruptions:

Customized customer experiences. With the new generation of consumer expecting to order what they want, when they want, from wherever they want, hyper-personalized buying experiences are becoming the norm. Supply chains need to deliver differentiation through radical customer customization, with the customer experience integral to virtually all operational touchpoints.

Self-learning operations. Supply chains should strive for autonomy, with connected devices and assets that understand the current state, learn, and take action accordingly. This next-generation approach to supply chain planning uses artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to sense and respond to change, maintain continuity during disruptions, foster constant collaboration between disparate teams and external partners, and shift from demand response to predictive demand creation.

Agile operating models. Agile operating models can provide near-instant insights in support of an organization’s workforce, ecosystems, and fluid work unit teams. For example, to help gain an accurate view of inventory positions and optimize vaccine allocation, stakeholders will need a supply chain that is bolstered by advanced technology like AI to identify early warning signs of disruption from external data, optimize orders based on critical need, and manage inventory reallocation and prioritization.

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