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

This presentation shows how risks of the quality of heat sensitive health products deteriorating can be monitored using new technologies such as connectivity devices and data analysis. An example is given of a cold chain monitoring device. The conditions and future prospects for using these technologies are discussed.

The increasing standards both in France and internationally for the distribution, transport and preservation of health products is bringing a similar rise in the need for technologies allowing these standards to be met and managed. In the health products sector, uncertainties of supply conditions and the resultant loss of control particularly of the cold chain can adversely affect the quality of the product, preventing it being marketed or used, at high economic and social cost.

How can new technologies nowadays help to prevent the impact of these risks and avoid losses?

Risks associated with the quality of perishable health products

A perishable product consists of a complex set of both internal (composition, functional properties and salubrity etc.) and external values (availability, ethics, etc.). These values can potentially be reduced i.e. the quality (which maybe standard-based) of these products may be corrupted under certain supply chain operating conditions (transport, storage, handling or distribution) following the loss of control of various factors such as light, moisture and primarily, temperature.

In the case of perishable health products, such as vaccines, which require controlled product temperatures, repeated large temperature excursions have health (cumulative permanent irreversible reduction
in efficacy), societal (lack of product availability, waste) and economic consequences (replacement of lost vaccines, personnel costs and specialist transport) for all of those involved.

A possible management by new technologies

What role therefore could new technologies play in remedying these problems? With the development of low cost, easy to use services based around connected devices and data analysis, operators can be offered all of the information about sensitive products and a history of the effects to which they have been exposed obtained from traceability, thereby improving everyone’s confidence in their quality.

Two types of key information can be provided:

  • Monitoring the quality of sensitive health products, based on quantifying impacts due to a temporary loss of control, until they are used,
  • Assessment of the performance of cold supply chains using statistical analyses and quantification of these analyses into the possible economic losses.

These new technologies can therefore improve the management of perishable health products.

Example: application of monitoring and management of a cold chain

This figure illustrates the use of a set of new technologies to manage perishable health products. The device is used to monitor the state of the products on a smart phone.

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

It begins with heat sensors/emitters placed in contact with the products or batches of products which transmit their metrology data to servers. The servers then convert these data into information which can be used by the operators through:

  • Analysing the data in real time and transmitting alerts, for example, in the event of temperature excursions,
  • Modelling quality losses of the products concerned.

Finally, the device is designed to return a simple intelligible result through mobile technologies with a level of information details suitable for the operator (by job, position and responsibility).

The benefit of this type of system is that it helps to reduce losses through early action in real time. Using the servers and simulation devices it is even possible to consider providing expert interactive decision-support systems offering corrective actions for deviations which have already been recorded.

This functionality has already been demonstrated on a smaller scale. Recent advances in big data management and analysis systems allow us to consider deploying these on a large scale.

Which operators and what benefits?

In principle, all operators in the perishable health products control chain may be interested in these technologies.

Whilst the rate of adoption of these solutions might be surprising, this technology should be primarily deployed by highly regulated operators (some analytical and testing laboratories, blood transfusion centres, vaccine manufacturers), medical and biomedical products logistics companies and even some general international logistics companies and carriers.

The operators involved can be identified by looking at their types of needs which are covered by these technologies, such as:

  • Guaranteeing management of temperatures (e.g. 15-25 °C, + 2/+ 8 °C) in accordance with regulations and standards,
  • Creating and managing logistics chains,
  • Securing the supply and distribution of strategic products (e.g. blood and vaccines),
  • Training operators in managing batches of health products.

The operators who use these solutions will derive real economic benefits from them. Firstly from a reduction in costs:

  • The management/cost balance of these systems is hugely optimised compared to older information systems,
  • Margins are increased because of a large fall in the costs of non-quality.

Secondly, by increasing volumes, services or production:

  • Reducing product losses,
  • The possibility to introduce high value products into emerging markets.

Finally there are also benefits to society in improvement in public health, greater availability of products and reduced wastage.

Conclusion

Deployment of these new technologies in the distribution of perishable health products can therefore answer the management needs of many operators in the sector, with both economic and societal benefits.

Operators still have a hurdle to cross: the competencies required to implement these approaches: both technical (metrology, telecommunications, digital simulations, statistical analysis and big data, unit traceability and user interfaces), and in the management of the application of complex systems. This opens the way to advisory and engineering specialists involved throughout the value chain.

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