The Critical Role of Cold Chain Logistics in Healthcare

The Critical Role of Cold Chain Logistics in Healthcare

Logistics is defined as the process of planning, implementing and controlling a set of processes in order to ensure efficient shipment / storage of products from the source to the point of consumption. Specifically, cold chain logistics refer to the transportation of temperature-sensitive products from the manufacturing site to a desired destination, in a temperature-controlled supply chain. It is worth mentioning that the cold chain process has been used extensively in food, dairy and chemical industries, with an aim of preserving and extending the shelf life of various products, such as fresh agricultural products, flowers, seafood, frozen food, photographic film and other temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical chemicals / products.

Cold chain is a three-fold concept, involving certain aspects that can be co-related to science, technology and process development. In terms of science, cold chain requires the understanding of chemical and biological processes associated with the product. It is considered a technology as it relies on physical means to ensure desirable temperature conditions for perishable products throughout the supply chain. Further, as a process, it involves a series of tasks that need to be performed while manufacturing, storing, transporting, and monitoring temperature-sensitive products. Over the years, this approach has evolved to become one of the most preferred methods for storage, handling, and transportation of healthcare products. Additionally, increased approvals of biologics and incessant demand for such products have accentuated the need for a well-defined cold chain logistics process.

Comparison of Conventional Supply Chain and Cold Chain

Establishment of an elaborate logistical process is extremely crucial in order to process the shipment across the supply chain. It is worth mentioning that logistic hardware in case of cold chain is more customized, as compared to the conventional approach. However, the product packaging has been observed to be more complex in the conventional method. It is also worth highlighting that regulatory guidelines are more stringent for cold chain logistics.

The following figure highlights the steps involved in the process of supply chain.

Cold Chain Logistics in Healthcare

Over the years, cold chain industry has established its presence across various sectors, including agriculture, food and beverages, fruits, dairy, and healthcare industry. The following figure highlights the applications of cold chain across different application areas.

The overall process of cold chain logistics involves several steps, ranging from the preparation of shipments to final product verification, at the site of delivery.

Types of Healthcare Products Requiring Cold Chain Logistics

Cold chain logistics are crucial for the transportation of temperature sensitive products, such as pharmaceutical, biological and active ingredient products. It is worth highlighting that wastage of more than 20% of the temperature-sensitive products is reported during transportation, owing to lack of proper facilities. It is believed that immunization can save around two to three million deaths every year, globally. Therefore, it is imperative that the viability and efficacy of products is maintained. The following figure highlights the various healthcare products which require cold chain logistics.

As highlighted in the figure, apart from vaccines, cell / tissue therapies, human organs and other biologics, there are some other healthcare products which require cold chain logistics. These include aerosols, blood plasma samples, diagnostics kits, fertility samples, hazardous goods, laboratory specimens, medical delivery systems, medical instruments and pathology products. It is worth mentioning that these products need specific temperature ranges for optimum functioning. In fact, in a survey conducted by DHL Life Sciences, it was reported that 40% of the customers face major issues while maintaining the required temperature for their products. The ideal temperature for storage / transportation of majority of the vaccines lies in the range of +2°C to +8°C (refrigerated), while cell / tissue therapy products should be maintained at frozen (-65°C to +2°C) or cryogenic state (-196°C to -65°C), depending upon their nature. The temperature requirement for other pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products varies from controlled room and ambient temperature to cryopreservation.

Advantages and Limitations of Cold Chain Logistics in Healthcare

Cold chain logistics have gained attention from several industry stakeholders in the past few years, to meet the incessant demand for logistical operations for various industries. The following figure highlights the various growth drivers and roadblocks to implementing cold chain solutions in the healthcare industry.

Concluding Remarks

Over the years, cold chain logistics have become one of the most preferred method for storage, handling and transportation of temperature-sensitive products in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. This can be primarily attributed to the several advantages offered by this process, such as maintenance of product efficacy and integrity at different stages of the supply chain. Further, the flexibility in the choice of transportation medium has allowed stakeholders to select the most suitable transport option, as per the delivery requirements of different products (such as pharmaceutical products and vaccines). Specifically, biologics are known to be extremely fragile in nature and are sensitive to even minor fluctuations in temperature. It is worth mentioning that around 95% of the approved biologics require cold chain in order to maintain their quality. Owing to this increasing demand for cold chain logistics, the industry has witnessed several capability expansions and facility acquisitions, which is further indicative of the growing interest of stakeholders in this segment. Further, cold chain management necessitates the maintenance and stability of the required temperature of vaccines across end-to-end supply chain, and therefore, promises the high-quality delivery of the vaccines to the healthcare, as well as non-healthcare organization across the globe.

Currently, the market for cold chain is dominated by the presence of several service providers that cater to the diverse needs of the pharmaceutical, food, dairy and chemical industry. However, in the last couple of years, stakeholders have been focused on the development of advanced tools and techniques for monitoring and tracking purposes, particularly real-time monitoring technologies, such as IoT, RFID and blockchain. Moreover, connected cold chain solutions have been observed to offer various advantages over conventional methodologies, including automation across several steps and elimination of human handling errors. We believe that, with the increasing awareness related to inherent benefits, the cold chain process is likely to be adopted by majority of the drug developers in the foreseen future.

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