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Using standards-based systems to modernise the pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains

Posted on: 21 Sep 12


Across the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, nothing is simultaneously as important for patient safety and operational efficiency as the supply chain.

Across the healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, nothing is simultaneously as important for patient safety and operational efficiency as the supply chain. From manufacturers all the way to patients there are a large number of transactions, each carrying potential risks to both patient welfare and the bottom line of organisations in the chain. Businesses in the supply chain need to take a pro-active stance to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible.

Whether it’s missing products, grey channel diversion or even outright fraud and counterfeiting, the impact that interference in the supply chain has can be enormous. You only need to look as far as the actions taken earlier in the year by the MHRA to remove millions of doses of counterfeit medicines from supply to see that the issues are not going away by themselves, especially with the huge market for pharmaceuticals online.

Fortunately more and more organisations in both the private and public sectors are switching on to the benefits of a standards-based system for monitoring and controlling supply chains. This means that the harmful impact that mistakes or interference in the supply chain can have is reduced. Organisations throughout the supply chain are increasingly getting the benefits of a transparent and manageable supply chain, but there is still a lot to do.

For example, the consistent use of 2D barcodes and RFID across the pharmaceutical and health sectors would dramatically improve the traceability of medicines. These tracking tools have already been shown to minimise waste in the retail sector by reducing duplication and over-stocking of supplies, and allowing surplus stocks to be properly redistributed. Following this model in the pharmaceutical supply chain would see that the right medication is in the right place at the right time, helping to ensure patient safety.

But it’s not just about having a barcode or RFID system in place to make sure that supply chains remain free of tampering. There is a huge opportunity hidden in the mountain of data that this level of visibility and traceability provides. Using the data pro-actively a pharmacy can not only see exactly what it has in stock, but can tell when stocks are running low and instantly put in a new order to ensure that no stock outages occur.

With current and upcoming regulatory requirements, there is also an increasing pressure on healthcare businesses to make sure that medical products are all uniquely coded according to a standards based system. By using a standards-based coding system, companies can be sure that they are compliant with the mandated standards in all the markets they operate in. For example, Mölnlycke Health Care, a leading provider to the pharmaceutical sector, redeveloped its product labelling to adopt common standards as part of continuous improvements to its supply chain efficiency after a period of acquisitions. In particular, using the standardised coding system is enabling Mölnlycke Health Care to improve the traceability of its products in the healthcare supply chain.

From an operational perspective, there are real efficiency gains to be had from a standards-based approach, including: less paperwork, fewer manual processes, better stock management, reduced stock wastage and increased time savings from access to more accurate and standardised information. This means that health professionals and pharmacies spend less time on administration, and more time focusing on patient care.

Roger Lamb, Healthcare Sector Manager, GS1 UK

Last updated on: 21/09/2012 12:56:34

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