Assessing the Reality of Loss from Interoperable Data on the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain


The reality is, that the loss of interoperable data on the pharmaceutical supply chain costs more than dollars and cents. Lately, we hear the phrase “data interoperability” thrown around like an epidemic outbreak from the digital age. For one second, have we considered the true cost of “data interoperability on the pharmaceutical supply chain?” It’s not the economics, but rather the deficit on patient care

Recently, I read an op-ed on Becker’s Hospital Review, Interoperability is an Ethical Issue, by the chairmen of the Center for Medical Interoperability. It made me think about the real cost of interoperable patient data across the entire healthcare system (from bench to bedside). We often don’t think or talk about the ethics of interoperable data, but rather we focus on the economics of it all. However, it is socially incumbent upon us, as technologists, industry executives, and advocates, to be conscious of the detriment to patient care as a result of interoperable data.

Let’s take a small sample of real-world losses arising from interoperable data on the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Loss Sample 1: Counterfeit, fake, illicit medicine

Interpol claims pharmaceutical crime is a major threat to public health. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 1% of medicines available in the developed world are likely to be counterfeit. This figure rises to 10% globally, but in some areas of Asia, Africa, and Latin America counterfeit goods can form up to 30% of the market.

According to the NCBI, It has been estimated that fake antimalarials contribute to nearly 450,000 preventable deaths every year.

Loss Sample 2: Drug shortage

A report from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering finds:

  • Drug shortages result in nearly $230 million in additional costs annually for hospitals because of the higher costs of substitute drugs.
  • For the period 2011–14, FDA announced that there were 456 instances of drugs in shortage, a circumstance that can cause adverse outcomes for patients, including substitutions (alternate drugs) or modifications to treatment.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that 6 out of 10 health care associations say the situation is static or worsening.

A quick checklist where a technology such as blockchain, could potentially offset these economic and social losses from interoperable supply chain data:

  • Restores integrity through security, trust and transparency on the supply chain
  • Optimizes the process of delivering drugs to patients faster and more efficiently
  • Provides true visibility into inventory management to anticipate drug shortages
  • Better manage drug recalls and reduce patient exposure
  • Increase patient prescription adherence rates
  • Evolve into a patient-centric supply chain in line with the progression towards personalized medicine

We live in an era of rapidly emerging technologies that are explosive (in a good way) and beginning to converge. Just imagine a pharma supply chain where artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning converge on the blockchain to “rev” up the pharmaceutical supply chain. What could be the outcome? Better medicine and patient care.

At the end of the day, not every emerging technology can solve every problem. However, we are going to start with the one that has shown the potential to make an impact at every stage of the pharmaceutical supply chain from production to patient.

If you are asking yourself “can blockchain deliver?” Perhaps, the real question should be “how will we know if blockchain can deliver if we don’t put it to the task?” That may put some balance in the evaluation process.

With this in mind, the IEEE Blockchain Group is presenting the Pharma Supply Blockchain Forum on 6 June 2017 in Rockville, MD. We are going to exclusively present blockchain in terms that best resonates with pharmaceutical executives in order to fully assess the barriers and opportunities to adoption, the necessity of data governance and technical standards, the regulatory agencies’ perspective on the technology, and the untapped benefits of the data trapped within the pharmaceutical supply chain.

If you are a professional who embraces and advocates innovation within the pharmaceutical framework, we invite you to participate.

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