From AI to drones: The future of hospital supply chain

Artificial intelligence, 3D printing and drone delivery are a few of the things supply chain leaders predict are going to change the field.

Here, five hospital supply chain leaders discuss their vision of the field in 50 years and the technologies that are here to stay:

Motz Feinberg. Vice President and Chief Supply Officer at Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles): Hospital supply chains in 50 years will be much more integrated, both internally and externally, and will leverage automation well beyond what we see today. At Cedars-Sinai, we envision fully automated ordering and replenishment for supplies across all departments. We also are exploring the potential of AI-driven clinical interpretations to help us more quickly respond to supply needs. For example, procedure-specific supplies and custom pack needs would be forecasted and staged for the case well ahead of time. While most tactical supply chain and materials management processes will be much more automated, the supply chain teams both in operations and across the broader supply chain continuum will focus on driving further clinical collaboration, technology innovations and supplier partnerships to deliver value.

Trisha Gillum. Executive Director of Supply Chain and Materials Distribution at Kettering (Ohio) Health Network: The supply chain in the future will be AI-enabled end to end, from the predictive analytics of diagnosis and planning to the delivery of care and resources. It will need to be agile to provide resources efficiently where needed, whether it is in the acute, non-acute or even home environment. It will also need to be environmental, diversity and stability minded. Advanced 3D printing will likely evolve the manufacturing and accessibility of products.

Lobel Lurie, DNP, RN. Clinical Value Analysis Manager at Cone Health (Greensboro, N.C.): The hospital supply chain in 50 years could be characterized by advanced automation and predictive analytics that would enhance the availability of critical medical supplies, enabling quicker response to patient needs and reducing treatment delays. On-demand 3D printing and point-of-care manufacturing would facilitate personalized tailored treatments and reduction of extensive external supply chains. Engagement in sustainable practices would contribute to environmental well-being, indirectly benefiting public health. Global collaboration and resilient supply chains would ensure equitable access to medical resources during emergencies, safeguarding vulnerable populations. These changes will be influenced by technological innovations, environmental concerns, regulatory shifts, and the need for efficient and adaptable healthcare systems.

Régine Villain. Chief Supply Chain and Support Services Officer at Ochsner Health (New Orleans): In 50 years, the supply chain will likely be seamlessly woven into the strategic imperatives as a key enabler for care delivery both in acute and non-acute settings. It will be the aggregated space in which shared resources are managed and leveraged throughout the continuum of care. We can expect the supply chain of the future to be technology-driven with amplified focus on sustainability, patient-centricity, digital health, care delivery at home, community integration, on-demand access, cost stewardship, revenue generation and personalized health outcomes. A few areas of note (among many) that will influence supply chain in 50 years :

Sustainable and eco-friendly standards: Sustainability will remain a priority and a required area of focus. The healthcare supply chain will integrate eco-friendly practices in all aspects of the operation. This will include using renewable energy sources, reducing and transforming waste, influencing positive carbon emission, and implementing greener packaging solutions.

Advanced technology integration: The supply chain will heavily rely on advanced technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics process automation and machine learning. AI-powered systems will optimize inventory management, predict demand and streamline logistics. Robots may handle repetitive tasks like picking, packing and transportation.

Blockchain implementation: Blockchain technology will bring transparency, security and traceability to the supply chain. It will ensure the authenticity of drugs, improve inventory management, mitigate counterfeit products and enhance supply chain visibility.

3D Printing: 3D printing will heavily impact supply chain by enabling on-demand manufacturing of medical devices, implants and even medications. This technology will positively impact lead times, reduce waste and enhance patient care.

Drone delivery: Drones (and similar types of unconventional delivery platforms) will play a significant role in supply chain logistics, especially in areas not easily accessible or during emergencies. They will possibly deliver not only medical supplies but also drugs, blood samples, lab specimens or even organs for on-demand and more efficient distribution.

Personalized medicine: With advancements in genetics and personalized medicine, the supply chain will need to evolve and become interactive. Tailored medications and treatments will require a more agile and responsive supply chain to ensure timely delivery of specific drugs and therapies.

Telehealth and remote patient monitoring: Telehealth and remote patient monitoring will be the golden standard. The supply chain will accommodate personalized delivery of healthcare supplies directly to patients' homes. This will surely require state-of-the-art last-mile delivery systems with demand sensing and real-time tracking capabilities.

Calvin Wright. Senior Vice President of Supply Chain at Houston Methodist: Certain supply chains will be supporting much larger organizations in the future, and we know there will be a continued shift in technology and consumer convenience and experience. I can see these shifts:

  • Vertical integrations.
  • Home delivery and care — footprint now includes all patients addresses essentially.
  • Centralized processes and teams supporting huge organizations creating massive economies of scale. Roles will be very different (more clinicians, less transactional) with a huge emphasis on analytics.
  • Very standardized and data driven. 
  • Group purchasing organizations do not exist or are vastly different to today.
  • If a shift to one-payer, then government may handle a lot of contracting and fixed pricing (focus on utilization).

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