New technologies & distribution of health products

November 16, 2018

This presentation shows how the risks of altering the quality capital of heat-sensitive health products can be controlled through the use of new technologies: connected objects and data analysis. An example of a deviceiAn example of a device for monitoring compliance with the cold chain is presented. The conditions and prospects for the use of these technologies are discussed.

With the increase in standards, both in France and internationally, on the distribution, transport and preservation of health products, there is a similar increase in the need for technologies to ensure compliance with these standards and their control.

In the health products sector, the vagaries of supply conditions and the resulting loss of control, particularly in the cold chain, can affect the quality of the product, thus preventing it from being marketed or used, at a significant societal and economic cost.

Today, how can new technologies prevent the impact of these hazards and avoid losses?

Risks related to the quality capital of perishable health products

A perishable product is composed of a complex set of internal (composition, functional property, wholesomeness, etc.) and external (availability, ethics, etc.) values. These values are potentially alterable, i.e. the quality capital (possibly normative) of these products can be corrupted under certain operating conditions of the supply chains (transport, storage, handling, distribution) when control factors such as light, humidity and, first and foremost, temperature are lost.

For example, in the case of perishable health products requiring controlled temperatures, such as vaccines, repeated and significant temperature excursions have health consequences (permanent and irreversible decrease in cumulative efficacy), societal consequences (lack of product availability, wastage) and economic consequences (replacement of lost vaccines, personnel costs and specialised transport) for all stakeholders.

Control possible through new technologies

So what role could new technologies play in addressing these problems?

With the development of low-cost, easy-to-use services based on connected objects and data analysis, it is possible to offer operators all the information concerning sensitive products, the history of the impacts suffered in relation to their traceability, thus improving everyone's confidence in their quality capital.

Two types of key information can be returned:

- monitoring the quality capital of sensitive health products based on the quantification of impacts associated with temporary losses of control until their use,

- Evaluation of the performance of cold supply chains through statistical analysis, and their translation into possible economic loss.

These new technologies thus make it possible to strengthen the control of perishable health products.

Example: Cold chain monitoring and control application

Figure 1 shows the deployment of a set of new technologies for the management of perishable health products. The device allows the status of products to be tracked on a smartphone.

Cold chain, the benefits of new technologies in the distribution of health products

This starts with thermal sensors/transmitters placed in contact with products or batches of products, which transmit their metrological data to servers.

These will then transform this data into information that can be used by the operators, by :
- analysing the data in real time and transmitting alerts in the event of temperature excursions, for example,
- modelling the loss of quality capital of the products concerned.

The system, finally, envisages in return a simple and intelligible provision of the result by using mobile technologies with a wealth of information adapted to the operator (by profession, function, responsibility).

The advantage of such a system is that it allows losses to be reduced by anticipation in real time. It is even possible, on the basis of these servers and simulation devices, to provide interactive expert decision support systems, allowing corrective actions to be taken in the event of deviations already observed. The demonstration of such functionality already exists on a small scale. Recent progress in the management and analysis of massive data(big data) means that large-scale deployment can be envisaged.

Which actors for which benefits?

A priori, all actors in the cold chain of perishable health products are likely to be interested in these technologies.

Although the pace of deployment of such solutions could, as is often the case, be surprising, the logic of adoption should, however, primarily concern highly regulated operators (certain analysis laboratories, blood transfusion centres, vaccine manufacturers) and medical logistics and biomedical product logistics companies, and even certain general logistics and international transport companies.

The operators concerned can also be identified on the basis of the nature of their needs that are covered by these technologies. Such as:
- ensuring temperature control (e.g. 15-25°C, +2/+8°C) in compliance with regulations and standards,
- creating and controlling supply chains,
- securing the supply and distribution of strategic products (e.g. blood, vaccines),
- training operators to control batches of health products.

Those who deploy such solutions will reap real economic benefits.

On the one hand, by lowering costs:
- the control/cost ratio of such systems is largely optimised compared to the old information systems,
- margins increase due to the significant decrease in the cost of non-quality.

On the other hand, by increasing the volumes of services or production:
- the reduction of product losses,
- the possibility of establishing high-value products in emerging markets.

Finally, the benefits are also societal: improved public health, greater availability of products and reduced waste.

Conclusion

Thus, the deployment of these new technologies in the distribution of perishable health products is able to meet the control needs of many operators in the sector with beneficial consequences for both the economy and society. However, there is still a stumbling block for operators to overcome, that of the skills required to implement such approaches: technical (metrology, telecommunications, digital simulation, statistical and big data analysis, unit traceability, user interfaces) and complex system management. This opens the way to specialised consulting and engineering players covering the entire value chain.

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