Key Tech Players & Innovators to Keep an Eye On
The degree to which new technology is making waves in the marketplace and changing the way industries operate seems limitless, and healthcare is no exception — from Amazon and UPS, to artificial intelligence and machine learning, to wearable tech and 3D printing. Call them trends. Call them disruptors. As we enter a new decade serving the dynamic, ever-changing industry that is healthcare, here are a few tech players and innovations specific to the supply chain that we at Suture Express find interesting and are closely watching:
Amazon.com Inc. has set its sights on becoming “a major supplier to U.S. hospitals and outpatient clinics that could compete with distributors of items ranging from gauze to hip implants,” The Wall Street Journal1 has reported.
And while early on providers were expressing cautious optimism about the larger role Amazon might play in the healthcare supply chain — particularly in the non-acute, home care and tail spend spaces — Amazon’s push has reportedly lost some momentum, according to a survey by UBS Group AG, reported by Bloomberg News.2 UBS’s survey found that while hospitals still expect to increase their supply purchases through Amazon over the next three years, Bloomberg reported, the percentage of respondents in talks for sourcing agreements with Amazon has declined to 7 percent from 11 percent last year.
Robotics & Automation
As in all industries, robotics and automation can deliver more value in healthcare by performing tasks that either cannot or should not be performed by people. The cost of robotics and automation continues to fall with adoption, and modular automation is improving labor utilization in many existing supply chain operations, according to the 2018 Health System Supply Chain Insights: Results of the Fourth Health System Consolidated Service Center Practitioner’s Survey; A report by: Jamie C. Kowalski, Jamie C. Kowalski Consulting, LLC & Lorcan Sheehan, PerformancSC Supply Chain Limited.3
Among the tech advancements in this area capturing the healthcare industry’s imagination are robotic process automation (RPA) and drones. In fact, RPA was among “5 Supply Chain Technologies to Watch,” published by Becker’s Hospital Review in March 2019.4
Robotic Process Automation (RPA)
According to a report published by London-based consulting firm PwC titled, “Robotic Process Automation in the Provider Supply Chain,” RPA is an automation process that uses computer-coded software (bots) that operate on top of other existing software applications and work both cross-functionally and across applications.5
“RPA creates value by enabling the automation of repetitive, rule-based processes and allows the opportunity to build workflows with dynamic decision tree branch points that can be looped and scaled up or down,” the PwC report says. The report emphasizes that RPA “is another technology in the overall automation toolbox and should be used to bridge the gaps within and across applications (e.g. ERP, workflows) and not in place of such applications. Healthcare systems should leverage RPA in conjunction with holistic improvement initiatives to enable better results and ask ‘where should’ RPA apply, not ‘where can’ RPA apply.
A respondent to the 2018 Health System Supply Chain Insights report has observed that drones are being looked at for lab and drug deliveries both across large campuses and intra-facility.6 And Time Magazine reported that since March 2019, UPS has been using autonomous drone deliveries of critical medical samples, including blood or tissue, between two branches of a hospital in Raleigh, N.C., located 150 yards apart, under a pilot program called, “Flight Forward.” In October, the FAA granted the company approval to expand to 20 hospitals across the United States over the next two years.7
Like many industries, supply chain executives in healthcare are “wrestling with understanding blockchain” and its potential use, according to the 2018 Health System Supply Chain Insights report, which noted that “additional awareness and education are required” in this area.8
Still, blockchain was another technology called out by Becker’s Hospital Review, stating it “has the promise of bringing high-level traceability to the supply chain because managers can track the status of a product in real time. In addition, smart contracts, which are one of the applications of blockchain, have built-in automation, which may ease transaction and payment management for supply shipments.”9
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Supply chain teams in other industries are examining AI applications in demand planning, product replenishment for certain categories, and in the sourcing process for product and freight — applications that should also be available to healthcare organizations, the 2018 Health System Supply Chain Insights report noted.10
Download the full article below to read more details on how each of these unique innovators will be impacting healthcare in 2020 and beyond.
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1 “Amazon’s Latest Ambition: To Be a Major Hospital Supplier,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 13, 2018
2 “Amazon’s Push in Health-Care Supply Chain Has Faded, UBS Says,” Bloomberg News, July 8, 2019
3,6,8,10 Health System Supply Chain Insights 2018 Consolidated Service Center Practitioners’ Survey, Jamie C. Kowalski Consulting, LLC & Lorcan Sheehan, PerformancSC Supply Chain Limited.
4,9 “5 Supply Chain Technologies to Watch,” Becker’s Hospital Review, March 22, 2019
5 “Robotic Process Automation in the Provider Supply Chain,” PwC, London
7 “12 Innovations That Will Change Health Care and Medicine in the 2020s,” Time Magazine, October 25, 2019