Asia-Pacific Biotech News

Towards a Smarter and Safer Healthcare Supply Chain in Asia

The healthcare supply chain worldwide has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, exposing major deficiencies in how it has operated. Many healthcare providers continue to rely on manual processes due to complexity and costs. However, developing a smarter and safer healthcare supply chain is evidently crucial today to ensure efficient and reliable medical supply delivery for better patient outcomes.

by Marcel Cote

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed significant deficiencies in the healthcare supply chain worldwide. The unprecedented demand for medical supplies, such as personal protective equipment, ventilators and testing kits, put immense pressure on the existing supply chain infrastructure. As it is, the supply chains of many healthcare providers continue to rely on manual processes due to various factors such as complexity and costs.

If there is one key takeaway from all this, is that developing a smarter and safer healthcare supply chain is not only crucial for ensuring efficient and reliable delivery of medical supplies, but also helps with improving patient outcomes.

In Asia, there are many countries that have well-developed healthcare systems with a strong focus on patient safety and quality of care. While various pharmaceutical companies have attempted to or have implemented digital transformation initiatives to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare supply chains over the years, the question that always arises is – are we investing enough in technology that can prepare us sufficiently for future demands and unexpected disruptions?


The Next Disruptive Innovation in Healthcare

The transformative benefits of digital ID technologies such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) that are increasingly being utilised in retail, manufacturing, and logistics are just as relevant for healthcare-related businesses as well. When RFID was first  introduced as a digital transformation business solution many decades ago, RFID tags were rather expensive and limited to non-metallic and non-liquid-based applications because of the relatively low volumes produced, technical limitations and a lack of international standards for the technology at the time. But that has changed in recent years!

As technologies evolve, and as RFID adoption grows significantly, these manufacturing efficiencies of scale drive down costs, opening new growth opportunities for the technology. These days you can find RFID tags designed specifically to be applied to liquids such as medicines and metallic objects including medical devices and implantables.

Unlike barcodes, RFID tags do not require line-of-sight reading, which makes them highly efficient, yet more reliable, enabling hundreds of tagged items to be read in a single scan within seconds. RFID offers additional advantages over barcodes, including the capacity to store and deliver significantly more item-level data, the ability to authenticate the product, and a much higher level of security, with microchips that can be password-protected, and whose data can be encrypted.

Enabling every item in a supply chain with its own unique digital identity provides visibility to the “who, what and where” of any item, dramatically improving inventory management operational efficiencies, and increasing brand protection, while achieving regulatory compliance.

Perhaps more than any industry, healthcare can benefit from the advantages that RFID provides, for one simple reason – patient health and safety is a top priority. Real-time item-level visibility and accuracy are critical in a healthcare supply chain and to build richer one-to-one communication with patients.

The Benefits of RFID Technology in Healthcare

1. Improved supply chain management

By giving every item a unique digital twin, RFID enables users to track and trace thousands of products down to the individual unit or dose in real-time, across complex supply chains, and in inventories anywhere around the globe. This provides reliable information that is both immediately actionable and also informative for future planning. This is the power of connected products, delivering end-to-end transparency that drives cost optimisation and sustainability through traceability.


2. Expiry management

RFID can enable automatic monitoring of expiration dates for medication and supplies, as well as automated alerts about items nearing their shelf life. With 10 to 20 percent of medications in a typical hospital pharmacy kit either incorrect or expired, this can help to save resources enabling waste reduction and elimination with real-time actionable insights.

An example is the Intelligent Cabinet solution1 in hospitals which provides greater visibility into the inventories of RFID-tagged medical items and enhances patient safety by automatically alerting suppliers when items approach their expiry. Moreover, it has door locks that require authentication, which offers an additional layer of security while capturing the consumption patterns of various departments at the same time.


3. Product authentication

Counterfeit drugs account for the largest fraudulent market in the world. A simple scan with an RFID reader or mobile phone can inform a user immediately whether a product is authentic and safe to use. Combined with blockchain records, RFID tagging can also provide brands and patients with a complete, secure, and easily accessible proof of a product’s provenance, and a map of its entire supply chain journey.


4. Tamper-proofing

Certain RFID inlay designs provide an additional circuit that can be looped around the closure of a medication container or medical device, which sends a signal when the closure is opened. Producers and users can easily see if a package has been opened prior to legitimate use.


5. Reduced labour strain on the system

RFID-enabled equipment and supplies dramatically reduce the time and labour necessary to track inventories, manage expiry, and ensure that the right supplies are on hand. It also improves centralised inventory management, transforming the chore of taking inventory from a time and labour-intensive manual process into one that can be performed in a fraction of the time.


6. Overall higher rates of patient compliance and a better patient experience

Using RFID near-field communication technology, producers of medications and devices can provide richer instructions and allow ongoing, two-way communications with patients to ensure they are using their medicine or device correctly, leading to improved outcomes.

Ultimately, the primary aim of the healthcare industry is patient safety and well-being, where RFID technology can undoubtedly play a vital role. As demand for RFID increases across the healthcare industry globally, we can expect to see even more innovative applications, use cases and technology advancements emerge that will further transform healthcare supply chains, operations, and patient outcomes in the future. [APBN]

This article was first published in the September & December 2023 print version of Asia-Pacific Biotech News.

About the Author

Marcel Cote, Director of Sales and Market Development, Asia Pacific, Avery Dennison

Marcel leads Avery Dennison’s Asia Pacific RFID Industry business. He manages an experienced RFID team covering Japan, Korea, ASEAN, Australia, India and Africa. Marcel is responsible for accelerating the adoption and growth of RFID across multiple industry verticals through strategic growth initiatives, industry partnerships, active ecosystem engagement and thought leadership.