Supply chain traceability for medical products and supplies

May 30, 2023

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of a resilient and transparent supply chain for medical devices and supplies has become glaringly evident. The ability to track and trace the entire journey of these critical items is vital not only for ensuring quality and safety but also for combating counterfeit products and optimizing distribution efficiency. Over the past three years, we have seen rampant counterfeiting of essential medical products like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These products entered the legitimate supply chain in both the physical and online distribution channels. 

This area is where supply chain transparency through traceability plays a pivotal role. This blog post explores the significance of supply chain visibility for medical products and its benefits to various stakeholders, including patients. 

Supply chain traceability refers to the ability to track and document the movement of products and materials throughout the supply chain, hypothetically from initial production to the end consumer. It involves capturing and recording relevant information such as the origin, manufacturing processes, transportation, storage conditions, and distribution details of each product or supply item at each change of ownership and movement through the supply chain. By implementing robust traceability systems, stakeholders can monitor and verify the integrity, safety, and authenticity of medical products and supplies. 

Benefits of supply chain traceability for medical products and supplies 

Ensuring Patient Safety: Supply chain traceability is crucial for safeguarding patient health and safety. Traceability systems enable the identification and swift removal of defective or potentially harmful products from circulation, reducing the risk of adverse events and medical errors. In the event of product recalls or quality issues, traceability allows for targeted and efficient recalls, minimizing patient impact. 

Combating Counterfeit Products: The industry has been plagued by counterfeit medical products, which pose significant health risks and erode trust in the healthcare system. Supply chain traceability plays a pivotal role in combating counterfeiting by enabling the verification of product movement at every stage. With traceability, stakeholders can validate medical products’ source, manufacturing, and distribution, reducing the likelihood of counterfeit items entering the supply chain. 

Supply Chain Efficiency and Resilience: Traceability enhances supply chain visibility, allowing organizations to identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and vulnerabilities. With a transparent supply chain, stakeholders can proactively address disruptions, optimize inventory management, and improve forecasting accuracy. This resilience leads to reduced lead times, cost savings, and an overall improvement in supply chain performance. It is essential for manufacturers to proactively work with their supply chain partners to get the necessary data integrations. 

Building Patient Trust: In an era where patients are increasingly conscious of product quality and safety, supply chain traceability plays a pivotal role in building trust. By providing transparency and information about the origins and journey of medical devices and supplies, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to safety, quality control, and ethical sourcing. In addition, trustworthy supply chains foster stronger relationships between manufacturers, distributors, healthcare providers, and end patients. 

We need serialization, aggregation and integration 

Having every product identified at the item level, we begin to have a tangible layer to establish visibility and transparency for brands’ products in the supply chain.  Individual product identification is a foundational layer to equip manufacturers with a consistent starting point. Serialization delivers this platform. Standardized serialization solutions, equipped with associated case and pallet aggregation, and connecting to a robust traceability platform, enable a brand’s supply chains to be protected and responsive. 

Aggregation is the process of assigning “children” to a “parent” in packaging to track and trace individual products throughout the supply chain more easily. Packaging hierarchy rules specify what package types can be packed into other package types (boxes into a case, cases onto a pallet, etc.), enabling one pallet barcode ID to represent all the unique products in all the cases on it. 

In this model, the physical supply chain is mirrored into a data supply chain. Shipment information is sent to trading partners, and upon receipt, data is sent back to the manufacturer. Downstream handoffs with integrated partners also have product movement data sent back to the consolidated traceability platform of the manufacturer. Comprehensive visibility, transparency and protection are achieved. 

Transforming and equipping the medical products supply chain with all the pieces necessary for traceability is no small task. But investing time and resources strategically today will benefit organizations now and well into the future. Organizations owning their comprehensive traceability capabilities is the critical first step. To achieve this, it is vital to fully understand existing supply chain networks, define and prioritize objectives, and integrate!  


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