Blockchain may be the main solution to healthcare supply chain problems.
With an increasing count of the aging population in America (expected to be around 95 million by 2060 from 52 million in 2018) and the fact that half of the country relies upon prescription medication, the need to implement an interoperable system that can ensure transparency & build trust in the complex pharmaceutical supply chain has never been this important before. The supply chain is towering and the question of ‘patient safety’ has gained momentum as such.
The authorities and organizations have been working hard to make sure that this massive supply chain remains free trouble. This includes avoiding counterfeit medications, drugs with low-quality ingredients, stolen drugs and contaminated medicines. This ensures that healthcare standards the people are not compromised. In this light, the group of four corporate giants i.e. IBM, KPMG, Merck, and Walmart took the joint initiative in March 2019 to participate and sign up for the Pilot Project Program under the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) of the U.S law. This program aims to promote the trading partners of pharmaceuticals. In turn, it leads to developing a digital system that can help to improve patient safety and supply chain.
Objectives, solutions, and results
The group i.e. pilot team leveraged the power of blockchain technology by dividing the responsibilities first. KPMG & IBM took the responsibility of providing solutions, Merck was responsible for manufacturing, and Walmart was responsible for the distribution. The roles were clear and the plan for application of technology was also developed. The group had proposed two objectives to analyze whether blockchain would help to optimize the supply chain as per the interoperability requirements and instructions of DSCSA, which were as follows:
- To demonstrate if blockchain can generate a common record that would reflect the movement of products by connecting distinct systems to exchange the information securely.
- To demonstrate if blockchain can provide alerts and visibility to the partners of the supply chain in case of product investigation.
The aforesaid demonstrations had rendered success to both the objectives. This led to an agreement by IBM, KPMG, Merck, and Walmart that the pilot program was successful.
The success of these objectives helped to justify that Blockchain. It makes the blockchain capable of providing advanced solutions to help shape the pharmaceutical supply chain for the better. The blockchain solutions can help with the purpose of the Pilot Project Program by doing following:
- Enabling data exchange and use between supply chain partners in a distributed ledger that cannot be changed or altered.
- Providing a common source to track and analyze the true movement of pharmaceutical products.
- Throwing light on the illegal activity, movement, or distribution of the drugs and medicines.
During the testing phase of the blockchain technology, the pilot team made the following observations. These areas define the final results of the technical development:
- Drugs origin and data privacy: The tech can help to detect and record not only shipments but dispense & distribution actions as well. This helps to maintain solid monitoring over the movement of drugs and medicines. Data privacy can be maintained amid the network participants.
- Patient safety: The demonstration confirmed that blockchain can assist in sending and receiving updates for investigations or recalls quickly in the favor of network participants. Also, the products cannot be dispensed multiple times. That ultimately results in the restriction of dispensing fake drugs or drugs subject to investigation.
- Reporting: The blockchain also demonstrated a method that can help to store the source data of all those products that have been recalled. This can help to regulate the movement of healthy and safe-to-consume drugs only
It is clear that the pilot team can accelerate the utilization of blockchain technology in the pharmaceutical supply chain. This would help develop a system that can ensure better health of American citizens. Furthermore, it introduces a new reform in the healthcare structure.