Healthcare Logistics During Crisis: Adapting to the Challenges

April 16th, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic grips the globe, healthcare logistics have been forced into the spotlight like never before. Supplies like medical PPE (personal protective equipment) and ventilators are needed in bulk quantities and in short order as treatment centers face depleted inventories, putting both providers and patients in jeopardy. How are medical logistics providers adapting to this unprecedented public health challenge and how can supply chains be optimized for a more efficient response later?

Navigating the healthcare supply chain

The healthcare supply chain is more complicated than most, with matters of expense, convenience, need, and ethics all competing for interest along the way. The medical supplies themselves can sometimes be a point of contention — provider and patient comfort familiarity do not always perfectly align with cost-effectiveness and/or availability. Under normal circumstances, a healthcare supply chain might work in these ways:

  • Medical equipment manufacturer > care provider/hospital
  • Medical equipment manufacturer > distribution center > care provider/hospital
  • Medical equipment manufacturer > group purchasing organization (via a purchasing contract with the manufacturer)  > care provider/hospital

Due to the volume of COVID-19 cases, a number of non-traditional suppliers (for instance, distilleries making hand sanitizer) have entered the fold, creating headaches for both care providers and regulatory agencies as the safety and legitimacy of medical PPE, such as face shields, surgical masks, N95 respirator masks, gloves, and gowns are called into question. Now more than ever, everyone involved in the process needs to know how much they have, what they're getting, and where it's coming from.

Solution: Transparency. 

Widespread adoption of modern scanning and tracking technologies reduce second-guessing and improved data recording. One solution that's been proposed for the healthcare sector is a blockchain system, in which contract and transactional data is stored in "blocks" in a decentralized fashion, meaning it is not controlled by any single authority. This would promote trust between parties in the supply chain and streamline the whole process.

Meeting public health demand

During a public health crisis, decisions need to be made both prudently and quickly. Supposing a healthcare provider's supply flow is all sorted out, it then comes down to execution — getting the equipment from its origin to its destination safely and efficiently. That means smart route planning, supply tracking, and secure transport that ensures sterility and integrity of product. As we discussed in last month's blog, any reputable medical courier service will have these capabilities. With COVID-19 testing in full swing, the sterile transfer of blood and tissue samples between sites is a high priority. With the eventual release of biologically-derived treatments and vaccines, cold chain logistics (tight temperature controls preventing spoilage/contamination) are of the essence.

Solution: Scalability and adaptability. 

A third-party logistics provider with the expertise and infrastructure in place can adapt your medical equipment transportation needs to scale. Honing on final mile delivery will also be a point of emphasis going forward, as telehealth and telemedicine replace in-office visitations. Getting prescriptions and supplies to patient residences quickly and safely will be key to accelerating the nation's recovery.

The future of disaster preparedness 

The United States and the modern world was not as prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic as it should have been, especially considering the technological resources we have available. Continued research and implementation of anticipatory logistics could yield a sea change in disaster response. Anticipatory logistics uses elements of machine learning, cloud computing, and algorithms to optimize delivery routes and schedules according to need. Doubtlessly, patterns within this current pandemic are being analyzed and applied to templates for rapidly containing future outbreaks. Whatever form the next public health threat takes, we'll be much more ahead of it.

Solution: Forward-thinking. 

Nationally and internationally, logistics obviously plays a huge role in public health response. By equipping ourselves with the latest knowledge, procedures, and technologies, 3PLs like National Logistics Network are bolstering our immunities. When we're prepared, we're all prepared.

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