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Top 5 Takeaways from the 2019 UPS® Healthcare Forum

Businessman giving a speech standing behind a UPS podium.

During the 2019 UPS Healthcare Forum, top healthcare industry leaders and UPS experts gathered to learn about innovations in the healthcare supply chain. Participants discussed how to use technology and policy to elevate the healthcare customer experience for patients. Here are some of the top takeaways from the event:

1. Rising convergence between e-commerce and healthcare

E-commerce is fundamentally changing the landscape of healthcare. Patients are holding healthcare providers to the same standard as retail e-commerce companies. Patients are no longer patients – they’re consumers. They want:

  • Accessible information about their healthcare providers and health-related services
  • Convenience, either through medications delivered to their home or through notifications that their prescriptions are ready for pick-up
  • Pricing transparency for products and services

The Amazon effect has changed the business model. “It has caused the healthcare industry to partner with logistics providers, such as UPS, to change their commercial strategy towards an online consumer engagement platform,” says Rob Feeney, CEO, MedVantx.

These demands, influenced by consumers’ retail experiences, have shifted the industry to focus on empowering the patient with information, visibility, and accessibility to healthcare products and services. Patients are now demanding the same transparency and convenience they get, for example, when shopping for their groceries online. With just a few clicks, they will be notified on their mobile phone as fresh food is picked, in transit, and finally delivered to their doorstep. Healthcare patients want the same customer experience.

“The supply chain must evolve as the rise of e-commerce intersects with the empowered patient,” says Neil Ackerman, senior director global supply chain advanced planning and transformation, Johnson & Johnson. “Now, more than ever, there is a need to incorporate more of the e-commerce experience into the healthcare experience.”

2. Aging boomers are driving demand for home healthcare

By 2030, there will be 61 million people between the ages of 66 to 84. These aging Baby Boomers will need a lot of medical care, and some researchers are concerned that the healthcare system will not be able to support them. Dubbed the “2030 problem,” boomers are looking at alternatives to traditional healthcare systems to provide them with the support they need in their golden years.

With life expectancy in the U.S. increasing, fewer children and high divorce rates among baby boomers, more may decide to live alone through old age, therefore demanding more home healthcare options.

But the concept of aging in place – the idea of bringing on-site care to the home – has its challenges according to Ana Hooker, senior vice president, Exact Sciences. “Figuring out how to access the patient from their home to provide proper care instructions, correct prescription dosage, and be on call 24/7 if patients have any questions, are a few of the challenges Exact Sciences has worked on solving. We now offer a 24-hour customer care team available for patient support when completing a home screening test.”

Vishal Agrawal, chief strategy and corporate development office at Humana sees a positive future. “We believe there are opportunities to help healthcare move from on-site to on-demand, and we look forward to leading that charge, creating that platform with organizations like UPS and other partners here.”

3. Consumers are using technology to take control of their healthcare experience.

Just as e-commerce has shaped consumer behavior in the way we shop, technology has also elevated our expectations, enabling access to many products and services on-demand. And even though these trends are somewhat unlike what we currently see in healthcare, consumers are demanding change through technology.

“In healthcare, we don't necessarily have a line of sight to all of our care options and all of our product options. We don't have a consistent feedback loop on the quality of care and the quality of our products, and we don't have transparency in pricing,” said Dan Gagnon, vice president global healthcare and life sciences logistics, UPS. “[But] it's not going to be that far in the future in which if you can't sleep at night, you'll just ask your mattress what kept you up. Or if you can't figure out what to have for dinner, you'll ask your refrigerator to suggest a healthy option based on what's inside.”

Consumers are demanding improved patient experience through technology and innovation. Forbes predicts that this year, AI in healthcare will be a $1.7 billion industry due in part to breakthroughs in medical imaging analysis and pharmaceutical development. And as more temperature-sensitive biologic drugs make it through markets worldwide, cold-chain shipping will take on an even greater role in the healthcare supply chain.

So what does this all mean for supply chain? “Regardless of where our supply chains end, we need to start thinking through and aligning our strategies to empower the patient. This may mean product distribution becomes more optimally customized to more easily reach patients,” said Gagnon.

For example, drones are now being introduced as an avenue for urgent and rural deliveries. UPS and drone manufacturer Matternet have collaborated to use Matternet M2 drones to transport medical samples taken from the doctor’s office in WakeMed’s flagship hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina to the central lab on campus. Medical labs are now using technology, like drones, to help reduce lab turnaround time so patients are able to receive their lab results quicker – reducing patient stress and anxiety from awaiting their results.

4. Blockchain technology is securing the supply chain

With technology playing a vital role in the healthcare industry, enhanced security measures must be implemented to ensure safe healthcare transactions and transport of medications across the supply chain. 

Blockchain is a decentralized log of activities and transactions that are time-stamped, tamper-proof, and shared across a network of computers to ensure verification and trust. Companies can come together and decide to form a network based on executing a shared protocol, or business rules, for one of their business processes. And the only way to change these rules is to get everyone who participates to agree to the change.

“The reason this decentralized system is so important in healthcare is that everyone retains control of their own data and can ensure all transactions meet the industry rules,” said Susanne Somerville, CEO, Chronicled. 

In healthcare, blockchain technology allows companies to track down transactions of drugs to make sure they are passing through needed protocols, authenticate institutional credentials, and ensure data can be easily validated by trusted networks and made available to the healthcare ecosystem.  

Blockchain can be used as a way to unlock barriers to healthcare data-sharing and developing consistent industry standards. Through blockchain’s shared transaction record technology, the healthcare industry will see an increase in transparency, which is absolutely critical in the healthcare space.

5. Policy and politics are shaping the global healthcare industry.

In 2018, 41% of Americans said the most important issue that needs to be tackled in the U.S. Congress is healthcare policy. Laura Lane, president of global public global affairs at UPS, emphasized the need for bipartisan solutions to create permanent policy. Advocating for laws like the STOP Act, which is intended to help curb the opioid epidemic, and modern customs processes (to expedite the customs clearance process), will help medications reach the patients that need them.

“It doesn't matter how much change happens politically, demographically, or technologically, we're going to be at the forefront advocating for the policies that support patients and healthcare companies. As you grow, hopefully UPS can grow with you,” said Lane.

To learn about how UPS can help you with your healthcare supply chain, visit ups.com/healthcare.

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