Health experts believe healthcare supply chain is fragile and in need of reform

Over 100 experts questioned in a report see vulnerabilities in supply chains supporting healthcare, particularly the production and availability of drugs and medical devices

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A new report — Trust or Consequences 2040: Will Innovations in Health and Medicine Deliver? — from the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) and the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence (MIT CCI) has found there is widespread opinion that medical supply chains are vulnerable. The report notes that the increasing frequency of global crises is highlighting issues and could force healthcare leaders to collaborate and deliver truly global health solutions.

"New health threats will emerge with significant impact on the delivery of healthcare throughout the world," forecasted Roy Guharoy, system vice president of pharmacy, Baptist Health System and professor of medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School. "The current global supply chain is fragile and infested with many problems, as evidenced by frequent drug shortages. A solid infrastructure for the global supply chain is critical to ensure availability of medications to meet the needs of patients around the world."

In April, as the pandemic was spreading, USP and MIT CCI asked the experts a follow-up question: "The COVID-19 pandemic has surfaced vulnerabilities in the global healthcare supply chain. Given this, what is the single biggest issue that should be addressed to ensure the availability of safe, quality medical products?"

Participants identified drug supply chain resiliency and shortages across the medical device and supplies sectors as crucial issues to tackle. They also offered a variety of solutions, which will be released in a future report.

"Many of the challenging issues we face in healthcare are recurring and persistent. Trust or Consequences 2040 points out that we must plan for the healthcare future we want, or we risk an erosion of trust and failure to fully benefit from promising innovations in health and medicine," said Ronald T. Piervincenzi, chief executive officer of USP. "During the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, trust is needed to ensure the integrity of our medicines and the global medicines supply chain. The decisions we make now, and in the months following this crisis, will have a lasting impact on the future of healthcare, trust in medicine and in building resilient supply chains."

The report presents four potential future worlds that could emerge by the year 2040, and which are greatly influenced by new advances in technology—notably big data and artificial intelligence (AI)—as well as access to healthcare.

  • Scaling the tried and true. A series of rolling crises spur effective global collaboration to address health concerns broadly. Meanwhile, medical advances based on big data and AI occur gradually and are implemented incrementally. As a result, the focus is on baseline care provided to all.
  • Dangerous uncertainty. Problems with big data and AI lead to devastating healthcare failures. Unequal distribution of access means only the rich receive the most advanced treatments while people of modest means turn to therapies informed by traditional folkways. The efficacy and safety of science-based medicine are called into question.
  • A world of difference. The successful application of big data and AI leads to rapid advances in personalized medicine and prevention, diagnosis and treatment informed by genetic information. Not everyone has access to the fruits of these innovations. Disparities between and within nations perpetuate a "haves" versus "have nots" dynamic.
  • Solving tomorrow's problems. Smart and deliberate innovation is broadly distributed. Advances in big data and AI help create effective, inexpensive genetic diagnostic tools that are applied globally. Diseases become more predictable and, informed by new insights about why illness occurs, the focus of healthcare evolves to emphasize prevention. New treatments also emerge. Technological advances not only lead to remarkable new therapies but also contribute to curbing increases in healthcare costs.
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