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Technology-enabled supply chain in healthcare

At the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic was the enormous stresses and strains faced due to the tragic failure of the global supply chain in healthcare. Ninety-nine percent of US hospitals/health systems surveyed by healthcare consultant Kaufman Hall in October 2021 reported challenges in supply procurement, including shortages of key items and significant price increases. Materials management not only affects the cost of running an institution, but also the quality and delivery of patient care. It was quickly realized that supply chain management was the key to combating the pandemic. Technology was deployed as never before. Hundreds of papers were published, sharing experiences highlighting the unprecedented opportunities technology offered. Jugaad, cost-effective, need-based, appropriate technology, innovation – these buzz words were translated into action in real time. Provision of healthcare supplies depends on a robust international supply chain, providing timely delivery to healthcare systems worldwide. A supply chain consists of raw material producers, manufacturing factories, transportation systems, and distribution networks.

Time was of the essence in placing, receiving, processing, procuring, distributing Covid-related management solutions, maintaining quality control. A solution is not a solution unless it is available to everyone, anytime, anywhere. Supply chain risk mitigation presupposes the ability to identify, quantify, and respond almost in real time. Real-world modeling with use of AI made a significant difference. Inaccurate inventory data, hoarding, exploiting shortage of materials, slow repurposing of manufacturing facilities to accommodate new requirements compounded the problems. Stocking places, sourcing points, transport, logistics, communications, counterfeit products, non-familiarity with ever-changing regulations, black market, increased demand, decreased supply, fraud, and profiteering had to be considered.

Specific use of technology. Use of blockchain enables fragmentation of supply chains, traceability of flow of goods, transparency of supply chain actors, accuracy of risk information, and financing of due diligence. Transferring real-time inventory data to any software application and instantly reporting to a designated authority over a secure connection is doable. Modern cloud-based paradigm is used for managing assets, operations, and staff. Tracking inventory with current IoMT technology is based on the cloud concept, utilizing smart labels and tags. IoT-enabled inventory management is cost effective. Programmable smart tags allow storing important information, such as destination, ordering data, and prioritized delivery designation. Using modern fleet management and cargo-tracking capabilities enabled by IoT, distributors provide near real-time data on supplies relocation to authorities and medical institutions.

In the real world, those working behind the scenes support staff in the background, but for whom the glamour boys and girls would never have been in the limelight are “unwept, unhonored and unsung.” How many of us pause even for a moment to think how the millions of vaccines, syringes, oxymeters, thousands of ventilators, the tens of thands of PPE – this list could go on and on – were dropped like manna from the heavens, enabling us to control the pandemic? We need to be future ready remembering that the future is always ahead of schedule. If Moses were to issue the Ten Commandments again, each would have the prefix thou shalt digitally transform.

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