"It's a patient, not a package."
That's the philosophy UPS Pharmacist-in-Charge Pete Vowels lives by every day as he oversees critical medical device shipments at UPS's healthcare logistics campus near its Worldport® air hub. His primary focus: getting critical diabetic medical supplies from the Louisville, Ky., campus's "end-of-runway" facility directly to patients' homes. With deliveries being made to up to 300 new diabetes patients every day, Vowels knows the stakes are high.
Nearly 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), making the disease one of today's fastest-growing public health crises. While there are many companies, such as global healthcare company Medtronic, on the front lines helping patients manage this chronic disease, there are other, behind-the-scene vanguards like Vowels, doing their part to protect and distribute products that improve the quality of life for patients.
"It's a dynamic operation here," says Vowels. "Most people do not realize UPS has an on-site dispensary where medical equipment is packed, labeled, and shipped on-demand for our healthcare clients. Our team ships their products, including insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitors and testing supplies directly to patients. With November being National Diabetes Awareness Month and November 14 being World Diabetes Day, this is a perfect opportunity to bring awareness to a chronic ailment that affects so many."
Vowels, a 9-year veteran at UPS with 30-plus years of experience as a pharmacist, is currently the only licensed pharmacist in the company's U.S. operations (other licensed UPS pharmacists are located in Asia, Latin America and Middle East). And Vowels takes his job ensuring compliance, managing inventory quality, safety and security, and running facility permits for direct-to-patient operations on the 1.4 million-square-foot campus very personally.
"I have friends and family members struggling with type 2 diabetes," says Vowels. "The ability to deliver essential supplies gives me the satisfaction of knowing I am helping people across the country control this disease."
UPS made direct-to-patient operations for diabetes devices at its healthcare campus a priority in 2008, as healthcare companies sought ways to get their innovative and life-saving products closer to patients. UPS's end-of-runway facility provided an efficient solution for storing and shipping healthcare items when time, visibility and inventory management are mission critical.
The term end-of-runway refers to both UPS and customer warehousing located in close proximity to Worldport and the Louisville International Airport so volume can be injected into the UPS network quickly.
"Our campus's strategic location gives us the ability to ship direct-to-patient next day across the U.S. via air or ground, which is paramount for chronic patient needs," says Vowels. And considering that UPS delivers up to 300 new patients each day on behalf of a global diabetes-therapy client, having an agile and efficient supply chain makes all the difference.
Worldwide, one in 10 adults will develop diabetes by 2040 if trends continue, according to the International Diabetes Federation. That's an estimated total of 642 million people expected to have to cope with the ailment, and stave off complications such as heart disease, glaucoma, blood vessel damage and more. Additionally, about 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes, according to the ADA.
"People need access to diabetes monitors to help better manage their disease," says Vowels. "This is all very serious for me, knowing my unique role helps healthcare companies impact patients' quality of life.
"We once received a call at about 11:30 p.m. that a pediatric patient needed a replacement insulin pump," Vowels continues. "Medtronic has an ecosystem of customer service employees available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Together, we were able to process the order and deliver a new pump to the child by 8:30 a.m. the next morning – traveling from Louisville to Seattle. That's what it's all about: getting the right product to the right patient at the right time. This is what makes my job rewarding."
And Vowels is optimistic about new innovations being developed by healthcare companies to make diabetes control for patients more efficient and less burdensome.
"I really believe that technology will lead us to diabetes breakthroughs, such as an artificial pancreas, very soon," Vowels says. "As research and development by healthcare companies continues to grow, diabetes patients will be better empowered to live longer, healthier and independent lives. I'm excited about the possibilities."
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