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Why IoT is mission-critical to monitoring all the vital signs within the healthcare supply chain

By Contributor
Wed 30 Jun 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Article by Cloudera country manager for A/NZ Nick Hoskins.

Time delays and inaccurate deliveries can create a supply chain headache in the healthcare sector. For healthcare providers, these obstacles may result in reputational damage, scheduling challenges and additional costs. From a patient’s perspective, the implications can range from delays in appointments for a repeat prescription to something more serious if supply chain disruption has impacted a chronic care treatment plan. For the most part, such issues can be avoided.

To overcome logistical hurdles, the answer is Supply Chain 4.0. McKinsey has defined this as “the application of the Internet of Things…the use of advanced analytics [and] big data in supply chain management: place sensors in everything, create networks everywhere, automate anything, and analyse everything to significantly improve performance and customer satisfaction”. 

Quite simply, Supply Chain 4.0 is the interconnection of all parts of the supply chain, which improves demand forecasting and supply replenishment. This way, pharmacies can avoid running out of medicine, for example, with notifications sent to the supplier when a product needs to be reordered as soon as it is taken off the shelf.

IoT continues to transform businesses as developing technology, and inter-connected devices generate vast real-time analytics. This gives organisations the chance to improve customer experience, streamline logistic demands and meet their daily needs.

According to Machina Research global market forecasts, by the end of 2024, nearly 25 billion connections will be established — which means more data will be generated from monitored devices, equipment and the overall environment in which they exist.

Increased operational efficiency comes from connected devices streaming and assessing data in real-time. This is the solution to a better-managed supply chain, and it avoids disruption. It is a gateway to staying up to date with equipment and infrastructure, redefining supply and demand, and allows organisations to respond to changing needs.

The healthcare sector can turn to IoT, big data and machine learning to power research, develop new treatments and improve existing ones — and it can also take the pain out of logistical failures.

Recent news reports highlighted the challenges some GP practices have had with receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. For example, temperature devices have caused confusion with incorrect readings, which have forced practices to cancel appointments while they dedicate time and resources to determine whether the vaccines delivered are safe.

In this instance, the practice struggled to get answers to simple questions, such as whether the transport company’s cold chain had failed. Finally, after the practice had cancelled all its booking, it was advised that the vaccines were safe to use as the device reading the temperature was incorrect, and, fortunately, there had not been a cold chain breach.

In the interest of public safety, the practice opted to cancel vaccination bookings while they found out whether the transport company’s cold chain had failed. Frustratingly, it transpired that the device reading the temperature was incorrect, and there had not been a cold chain breach, so the cancellation of bookings was unnecessary.

Connected devices help overcome these communication breakdowns, as they can pinpoint errors in real-time without delay. In this instance, live data streaming would have indicated the slightest change in temperature conditions, indicating a need to take preventative measures. 

Maximising value with a data platform

In the past, organisations have relied on data making its way into a data warehouse or data lake before meaningful analysis and analytics can occur. In addition, some have adopted separate tools for driving insights from streamed data. 

However, the disadvantage with this is it creates yet another silo and new problems in figuring out how to integrate components. One solution is to utilise a platform that provides ingestion, transformation, query and predictive analytics capabilities that can be accessed by a single pane of glass and supports different cloud environments and edge computing.

The right platform will capture and process data locally or move it to the cloud, depending on what makes the most sense. For instance, organisations can deploy hundreds or up to thousands of ‘edge agents’ to edge devices to manage them from one location and streamline operations. The right partner will enable the organisation to collect and process streaming data so it can react immediately to events, analyse data for future research and optimise processes to avoid common challenges. 

The importance of any cloud

On-premises infrastructure can lack the elasticity to accommodate spikes in data workloads, and this can slow down an organisation’s ability to drive understanding at the desired rate. However, today it’s also very likely that an organisation utilises multiple cloud vendors and runs operations via a combination of public and private cloud, data center and legacy systems. 

Using a hybrid cloud infrastructure ensures healthcare providers have both scalability and flexibility with their data storage and analytics. Like an enterprise data cloud, modern cloud technologies provide the speed and flexibility that healthcare practitioners demand while also delivering the security and data governance that the IT team needs. 

Improving the effectiveness of the healthcare supply chain 

A successful supply chain includes an agile demand forecast. By leveraging all data sources and advanced predictive analytics, healthcare organisations can transform demand forecasting into logistics planning. This can be achieved by analysing data from numerous data sources, as well as external sources such as market trends, weather, public holidays, and more.

An agile forecast underpins everything that makes a logistics plan more robust. Likewise, information from connected devices informs a distribution plan, and it allows it to build a picture of demand on medical supplies. 

An informed supply chain is a connected supply chain, which results in better services at all levels of the medical sector. The medical industry relies on a stable and regular logistics program, and Supply Chain 4.0 is the answer to overcoming logistical, medical hurdles.

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