Comment: Internet of Things will revolutionise how healthcare is delivered
Like nearly every other area of commerce, healthcare is now a global market. Worldwide it is projected to be worth $8.7trn and tipped to grow by 4% in Western Europe by 2020, driven by an aging global population and chronic diseases; improving healthcare access around the world; and advancements in technology.
The UK is one of the markets leading the way with its MedTech sector expected to experience an annual growth rate of 5.1% until 2019 – the highest of any European market. The UK pharmaceutical market meanwhile is expected to grow at 2.9% annually.
Global and borderless
At FedEx we see the healthcare industry as global and borderless. But the healthcare industry needs to adapt to this new environment of distinct healthcare clusters dotted around the world. These hubs need to be connected seamlessly and securely through advanced technology if the true benefits of globalised healthcare are to be realised.
Even a decade ago, it would be difficult to imagine what’s now possible through the intersection of global trade, healthcare and technology. For instance, a heart patient in the UK receiving a pacemaker made half way around the world, in just one night; or transporting sensitive biomaterials such as human liver cells between the UK and Japan – and having them arrive in perfect condition.
The globalisation of healthcare and the varied needs of different subsectors bring a greater degree of complexity to how it is connected through the healthcare supply chain. More is being demanded from a technological perspective, whether it is unique needs like temperature control, light sensitivity and humidity – or simply an efficient supply chain that meets the needs of cost, speed, reliability, visibility and security.
It’s estimated that the value of the global cold chain logistics market is expected to increase to almost $272bn and grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.9% by 2020. Last year, more than half of the top 50 best-selling drugs required temperature sensitive transport. But while medical technology has made stunning advances in the last three years, many medical and life-science products are still being transported the same way they were 30 years ago.
Think about this: a typical pharmaceutical manufacturer has a lead time of about 75 days to deliver to distribution centres out of a formulation and packaging plant whereas a typical laptop manufacturer can accept an order on a Monday and deliver a pallet of newly assembled customised computers to a European customer on Tuesday of the following week.
And much of the industry is still using the dated method of dry ice and styrofoam as a deep frozen shipping method, while technology now allows clinical trial samples to be shipped in a liquid nitrogen dry-vapour container maintaining -150°c for up to 10 days. The possibilities this new technology opens up were previously unimaginable.
Internet of Things and healthcare
The big technology shift sweeping the global connection of healthcare is that the supply chain is becoming part of the Internet of Things. Pieces of the supply chain are already connected so packages can be tracked and monitored but in the future, more tiny embedded sensors will enable more pervasive tagging and an unprecedented degree of real-time tracking and tracing.
This will provide unique visibility of critical information such as location, temperature, light exposure, humidity, barometric pressure and shock. It will also ensure the integrity and security of healthcare goods. Fraud and security is a widespread problem in the industry; according to the World Health Organisation, 8% of medical products are estimated to be counterfeit and pharmaceutical theft is becoming more widespread and sophisticated.
While supply chain control and visibility is important for all industries, it’s absolutely vital for the healthcare industry. From biologic manufactured items to pharmaceuticals, the items the healthcare industry ships are important, sensitive and difficult to replace.
Imagine if a shipment holding medicine that was personalised for the DNA of a cancer patient was spoiled or stolen. You can’t pull a substitute off the warehouse shelf and ship it overnight. The complete visibility of healthcare shipments is needed as medicines become more personalised and more potent. This is why connecting every element of the healthcare shipping industry is critical to delivering the huge potential that globalised healthcare can offer.
The future of global healthcare is building out smart, connected healthcare supply chains that are efficient, flexible, accessible, compliant, and economically viable. In spite of all our knowledge, and scientific and technological breakthroughs, it doesn’t do human kind any good if we can’t access and disperse the benefits of healthcare advancements – and it doesn’t do the industry any good if it can’t get products to people that want and need them.
In the end, no other industry affects the well-being of people like the healthcare industry does and connecting the global healthcare industry isn’t just a matter of economic opportunity, it can dramatically improve and save lives.