Guest Column | September 21, 2022

3 Steps For A Smarter Medtech Supply Chain

By Alex Klim and George Marinos, PA Consulting

Transportation and technology GettyImages-1331571740

In a post-COVID-19 environment, the medtech industry has a huge opportunity to make its supply chains “smarter.” Most organizations involved in healthcare, including medtechs, are collecting more and more data at various points in a patient’s journey – and using it to drive better outcomes. Take the management of diabetes, for example; technology is being used to monitor glucose levels, calculate and track insulin dosage data, run algorithms that predict needs and behaviors, and prompt alerts to either the supplier, caretaker or, the patient to act on.

Up to now, the focus for medtech companies has been on the therapeutic advantages that devices provide. And devices have become increasingly technologically advanced from a therapeutic perspective. Now companies need to recognize the supply chain value that can come from the data capabilities of modern medtech devices. Because their products are technologies, medtech companies are uniquely positioned to continue to collect more and more data through the use of their products; this creates an opportunity to make the most of digital technologies to improve supply chain performance.

And it comes at a time when climate change and resource scarcity, economic uncertainties, geopolitical challenges, and logistics pose significant risks to global supply chains. Ensuring supply chains are protected, reliable, and adaptable is critical – and new technologies such as IoT sensors able to relay real-time data through the supply chain are central to achieving those objectives. Our research reveals it’s a challenge many organizations are grappling with: the will is there, but people aren’t confident they’ll succeed.  

Medtech companies need to build a vision that aligns smart supply chain initiatives with their strategic objectives so they can establish appropriate investment levels. They need to understand the value opportunity and work in an agile way to make sure they move quickly to adopt and scale technology. There are three main steps medtech companies should take to make their supply chains smarter: engineer smarter supply chains, synchronize the supply chain to patient pathways, and enrich the data in the supply chain.

1. Engineer Smarter Supply Chain Solutions Into Product Design

Data needs to be a key component of a product’s design right from the outset. But you need to think about more than collecting data for monitoring health conditions and product performance. You also need to incorporate smart supply chain strategies into your product design to reap the full range of potential benefits.  

For example, IoT sensors in products can be used for remote patient monitoring that supports the consumable and therapeutic side of the supply chain. As well as ensuring patients receive effective treatment, and the right top-ups at the right time (such as insulin needles), these sensors also allow for ongoing predictive or fast-response maintenance. There could be an opportunity to utilize anonymized data to right-size doses of the associated medication. For data to be truly optimized, you need to capture demand closer to the source, such as, for example, by directing a device’s associated consumables straight to, or as close to, a patient as possible. 

We worked with Sure Chill on cold storage to help transport vaccines and medicine to the most remote regions in the world. Beyond the initial success of the water and solar power cooling technology and its portability and sustainability credentials, the cooler is also connected. This allows for critical insights into vaccine condition and the ability to determine if units have been opened and closed or if units have been dropped. All of this reduces vaccine spoilage, extends their lifespans, and saves more lives.

2. Synchronize The Supply Chain To Patient Pathways     

Healthcare institutions collect a lot of data that could be of relevance to the supply chain, but for the insight from this to be useful, you need to direct the right data to the right place, at the right time. This is why it’s important to synchronize your supply chain to patient pathways, which are much more connected and agile than traditional “orders” at the point-of-need.  

For instance, the materials and equipment needed for a first patient appointment can be readied in advance, a range of products for the follow-up appointment will be prepared ahead of time, and, depending on the outcome and next steps, a further treatment plan can inform the inventory made available or sent to the patient at precisely the right time. This data creates a two-way street: Data from the supply chain can be synchronized to give ongoing support to clinical trials or to provide post-marketing insight. 

3. Ensure Additional Data Enriches The Supply Chain  

With healthcare already a data-rich environment, the addition of more data is only useful when it truly enriches the supply chain. Think about data points that bring new insights, such as being able to add additional resiliency to the supply chain.  

As an example, traditional data on delivery lead times could be combined with temperature data and shock data, creating detailed insight on common logistical problems and patterns. By trending this data, it can help predict when failures might happen – and this enables preventive action and mitigation.  

Unilever is taking this approach to help protect employees while maintaining the supply of products to 2.5 billion consumers worldwide. It created a world-leading predictive tool that is used daily to manage supply chain operations and enables Unilever to manage the safety and resilience of its sites, evaluate supply chain impacts, and make longer-term strategy decisions. 

Coping With Disruption And Change 

By exploring all the opportunities for collecting, analyzing, and communicating data, medtech companies will succeed in achieving their strategically designed visions for a smart supply chain. Legacy supply chains that leverage the opportunities increased live data can offer will better cope with disruption and change.

About the Authors:

Alex Klim is a digital supply chain expert at PA Consulting. He has worked with a range of medtech, pharma, and healthcare provider organizations and has led global transformation projects. He  specializes in supply chain visibility, system integration, and producing data-led real-time insights.

George Marinos is a supply chain and operations expert at PA Consulting. He leads PA Consulting’s digital supply chain proposition and works with medtech companies to help them harness digital technologies and innovation to improve their supply chains and broader operations.