Healthcare logistics

The global pharmaceuticals market is expected to overrun 1.5$ trillion by 2023. Thus, logistics must sustain the constantly growing demand in the healthcare industry. 

What is healthcare logistics and what types of products does it include?

Healthcare logistics is one of the most important factors that contribute to the general level of community health. Proper and timely treatment is straightforward connected to the organization of the logistics process. Although it may seem unobvious, often the state of health and even life of an individual depends on effective healthcare logistics. 

Healthcare products include all types of items that are used in the medical industry for maintaining and improving the health state of their consumers. That is, the medical products are widely used by different categories of population and often require immediate replacement. Depending on their type, healthcare products can be divided into several categories:

  1. Healthcare substances represent all the chemical and physical substances needed for medical treatment. 
  2. Healthcare equipment involves whole medical appliances and devices and often are big in size.
  3. Healthcare supplies include a huge variety of medical tools, materials, and equipment parts. These supplies are characterized by high replacement demand and are frequently ordered in big quantities.

How does the healthcare supply chain work?

The healthcare supply chain consists of several basic stages that allow shippers to better understand and organize the transportation flow. 

  • Manufacturing and supply. All the pharmaceutical products are manufactured and packed at a plant with an established temperature environment. These temperatures are considered to be optimal for storing the drugs for a certain period, so normally it is required to maintain the original temperature levels during transportation.
  • Transportation. The vehicles you choose for moving healthcare products have to be suitable for the cold chain strategy. They are often inspected and should undergo state regulations.
  • Storage. Pharmaceuticals might be located in refrigerated warehouses before reaching the final destination. Sometimes, the storage step gets skipped due to the products being delivered directly to the customer.
  • Distribution. The final step of the process is delivering the healthcare supplies to the customers, pharmacies, or medical institutions for distribution. 

Key challenges of healthcare logistics

Along with the increasing demand for pharma products, healthcare logistics faces many challenging tasks. 

  • On-time delivery gets critical in the case of transporting healthcare products as sometimes it can be a matter of life and death. That is why medical shipments are often precisely scheduled and do not include the possibility of delays or additional stops. Moreover, a lot of pharmaceuticals bear a short expiration period, so even a small supply chain disruption can disable them. It is important to work on route planning and examine all the transportation conditions beforehand to avoid the potential risks.
  • Transparency of medical transit has a lot to do with the pharmaceuticals’ expensiveness. Customers who order the drugs’ delivery are usually more prone to track the shipment or check the delivery status. If you are able to apply the tracking software, this can significantly simplify the transparency of the shipping. In addition, the widespread tendency of e-commerce contributed to healthcare logistics, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, people want to pick and buy their medicines just like they buy regular consumer goods. It is recommended to keep an ear to the ground of online orders and constantly check if you are not running out of stock.
  • Compliance with the healthcare supply chain is quite strict and controlled by many instances. Breaking the regulations in this sphere inevitably leads to the great money loss caused by both the fines system and goods overexposure. Besides following the temperature control and package requirements, make sure you’ve taken care of the appropriate recordkeeping and instructed the staff.
  • Shortages can become a recurrent problem for healthcare logistics without building the inventory management strategy. Unlike the other categories of consumer goods, pharmaceuticals are considerably more vulnerable to deadstock situations as most of the chemical substances cannot survive long periods of storage. Do not hesitate to adopt demand forecasting, especially if you are working with medical structures on a regular basis. Also, try to keep track of sales data and upgrade the inventory management software if possible.

How to ship pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies?

It is impossible to organize a successful healthcare transit without following official state regulations. They are quite strict, and sometimes the medical shipments fail to be delivered because of the shippers’ violations or drivers not being familiar with the rules. Before scheduling the pickup, please make sure you and/or your staff perform according to public regulations. 

Pharmaceutical shipping is covered by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and concerns all the participants of the healthcare logistics process. 

Cold chain strategy 

Since healthcare substances are extremely susceptible to temperature, following a cold chain strategy is a necessity. Even a slight 2 degrees change in temperature during shipping can lead to ruining pharmaceutical products. Cold chain logistics involves applying special technology and appropriate transportation service to maintain the required environment throughout the whole shipment process. 

Typically, pharmaceutical products require to be stored between 55 and 77 °F. Depending on the drug’s chemical composition, the temperature will vary and can range from negative to positive meanings. The priority of the cold chain is to eliminate the risk of temperature fluctuations that can irrevocably damage the product. In cases where you haven’t received any specific temperature instructions, the FDA normally requires the products to be kept at controlled room temperature. 

Transporting pharma products usually takes place in refrigerated trucks as they are capable of holding the same inner temperature no matter the weather. Also, these types of vehicles have built-in control systems which allow you to stay updated on the trailer’s temperature and regulate it when needed. 

The reefer trailers are designed to work separately from their traction parts and use their own source of power. It provides an opportunity to save the temperature inside the trailer independently of the type of vehicle hauling the trailer.

Security

Due to their high prices, medical products are often put under the threat of stealing. To avoid the loss of expensive cargo, it is better to check its security in advance. First, make sure that the healthcare goods you are shipping can be only accessed by authorized personnel. This may be organized by applying access control keys for the shipment participants. Thus, no other individuals will be able to contact the transported materials. Second, consider using surveillance cameras and automated locking systems. These devices will reliably protect your cargo from any chance of theft.

Additionally, it is quite effective to use modern tracking systems. Besides being highly reliable for controlling cargo security, they also enhance your logistics performance by improving customers’ experience. Customers can easily track their shipments in real-time and receive all the necessary information about the delivery. Also, they will get informed of possible delays so you don’t have to explain the reasons like high traffic congestion or bad weather conditions.

Proper pharmacy packaging

Packing pharmaceuticals for shipment is a responsible step that cannot be overlooked. A big part of the general healthcare production is fragile and needs a careful approach at the time of loading/unloading. Proper packaging methods will keep the medical supplies safe and ensure the integrity of all the contaminants. You will also avoid possible losses of pharmaceuticals during shipment. 

External packaging. Usually, healthcare units are condensed into insulated containers (crates, boxes, etc.) that are thermo-regulated and can hold the required temperature for certain periods. They as well reduce the risks of damaging sunlight and humidity fluctuations. Sometimes, containers do not include the thermal protection pieces – in this case, you can apply additional modules like thermal cargo blankets or thermal container liners. Moreover, these options are cost-efficient, reusable, and recyclable. If you are concerned about eco-friendly packaging, it might be a good choice for you. 

Some biologically active substances like hemoglobin and regenerative matters have to be shipped in cryogenic containers that are capable of holding extremely low temperatures.

Rotomolded cases are frequently used for shipping pharmaceuticals as they are extra tight and waterproof. This packaging will provide maximum protection and reduce the transporting impact for highly fragile products. It is recommended to use thermal rotomolded cases for shipping pharmaceuticals that are forbidden from contacting the outer environment. 

Internal packaging is equally important for safe pharmaceutical shipment. To stop the products from undesirable movement inside the box and vibration impact, it is worth paying attention to different void fillers. For example, film wrappers or papers can be applied to items of lower vulnerability, while highly fragile goods have to be condensed with foams or other bulk fillers. Besides the original manufacturer’s packaging, healthcare products need to be doubly secured. Especially when it comes to liquid substances that are usually shipped in glass bottles. 

Liquid pharmaceuticals

Shipping liquids. Since liquid pharmacy substances are often bottled, it is essential to follow a certain sequence while packing them. To keep the medicines from leaking, seal the bottles into bags or wrap them with bubble film. When placing bottles inside the box, verify you’ve taken up the extra space with void fillers like foam or packing peanuts. Often shippers use the method of double-boxing to exclude vibrations and oscillations during movement. If you decide to apply double-boxing, make sure the outer box is also bulked with inner fillers. 

While finally sealing the box, do not forget to place the “Fragile” stamp on top.

Palletizing

After being packed, containers with healthcare goods are often stacked into pallets. Palletizing is one of the most reliable methods of organizing the packed cargo inside the truck. However, the regular wooden or havoc pallets can be ruined by condensation processes inside reefer trailers. That is why the healthcare industry tends to use thermal pallets because of the additional layer of thermal protection they provide. Thermal pallets often include a barcode system that simplifies tracking activities. If you haven’t managed to find thermal pallets for your shipment, you can consider applying thermal pallet covers which are sustainable to temperature fluctuations.

Labeling healthcare products

Labeling requirements for pharmaceuticals are comparatively detailed and include information about the range of different characteristics. Before scheduling a shipment, it is crucial to check if the goods have been labeled appropriately. 

First, make sure that the pharmaceutical label has the official product name on top. Second, see if the sticker provides data about the purpose of use and warnings. Third, verify all the active and inactive ingredients are listed on the label. Normally, pharmaceutical labels also contain a record of possible allergens or unusual components. Occasionally you can meet some special directions mentioned on the label. The Food and Drugs Administration does not typically require pharma companies to name the country of origin of every ingredient – the manufacturing locations should be listed instead.

Regarding the medical label’s design, it must contain legible text as well as exclude typographical errors or unknown abbreviations. This will considerably reduce the risk of transporting the wrong production. 

If the pharmaceutical units have been packed into bigger containers, the last ones have to be additionally labeled and represent the list of contents. 

Shipping large medical equipment 

Delivering medical equipment may seem quite challenging, as it is often oversized and heavy. Examples of frequently ordered medical equipment are medical furniture (beds, tables), special computers, lasers, scanners, surgical devices, laboratory supplies, etc. 

Before scheduling the shipment of medical devices, it is crucial to precisely examine their type and properties. Medical equipment units vary considerably in terms of size, weight, shape, and fragility levels. Having all the necessary information in mind will much facilitate planning your shipments, especially when it is urgent and requires fast organization. Also, make sure you have analyzed the environment your cargo will be stored in – it might be of high humidity or not capable of holding necessary temperatures.

A big part of medical equipment usually contains fragile components like lenses, gauges, and mirrors. Thus, it is recommended to disassemble the equipment unit into smaller parts and pack them separately. While stable parts of medical equipment can be packed into regular corrugated boxes, simple crating and surrounding fragile components with a little inner filling is not enough. Pieces containing glass and other breakable elements have to be condensed with big amounts of bulk fillers or foams so that they are isolated from any type of shaking and vibration during transportation.

In the case of planning regular medical equipment shipments, you can consider applying permanent packaging. Since it can be used multiple times, you will remain cost-effective in terms of healthcare logistics processes. Moreover, permanent packaging can contain your logos or marks to clearly identify it during future shipments. 

After proper packing is completed, boxes with medical equipment parts should be additionally fixed by applying custom blocking and bracing designed to minimize the risk of cargo displacement inside the truck. Besides, if the medical equipment is heavy, please verify there is an opportunity to use the ramps and special supportive appliances to perform the safe loading and unloading. 

Due to the high cost of medical equipment, it is reasonable to review the possibility of insuring it. Even if you have taken care of all the preparations and safely packed your items, there is still a threat of damage caused by external factors or getting into road accidents. Healthcare devices are usually of a high complexity so the loss of a single part can disable the whole unit. In case of breaking, uninsured medical equipment is most likely to be denied at the delivery, and the reimbursement will cost a fortune.

Furthermore, valuable equipment units are typically expected to be tracked throughout the logistics process. By applying tracking systems, you will convince the customer of the safety and reliability of the shipment. Getting access to real-time navigation does not only improve customer experience but also provides you with important insight into operational gaps and possible areas to review. Tracking systems as well significantly modernize the delivery of medical equipment by forecasting various obstacles that can emerge throughout the transit.

Which transportation modes are used for medical supply delivery?

Shipping pharmaceuticals can be carried out using prevalent transportation modes. They include:

  • Full truckload (FTL) shipping offers the entire truck that is devoted only to your cargo. If you are planning to move big amounts of medical items, the FTL mode can be a good choice. It also perfectly meets the on-time delivery requirement by excluding any additional stops.
  • Less than truckload (LTL) shipping suggests cheaper transportation due to sharing the truck space with other customers and delivering goods to several places. 

When deciding on the appropriate shipping mode, remember that a huge part of pharmaceuticals has to be shipped in reefer trucks or trailers. Both FTL and LTL modes provide cold chain services, however, it is better to verify the availability of refrigerated vehicles in advance. Reefer shipping is a nearly irreplaceable option when it comes to healthcare logistics.

Refrigerated trucks are equipped with thermal control systems and remain at the required temperatures throughout the shipment. They are also independent of weather conditions and the influence of light, so you can be sure your pharmaceuticals are well protected from climate fluctuations.

How long does it take to ship pharmaceuticals? 

Since the delivery of the pharmaceuticals is usually time-sensible, you will considerably benefit from preliminary calculations. To work out the approximate duration needed to deliver healthcare products, it is necessary to count a range of various components that can revise the time frames of your transit. Firstly, it depends on the distance that must be covered – the longer it is, the bigger the interval gets.

Secondly, some factors like traffic congestion, seasonality, or weather conditions can have an impact on shipment duration, too. For example, moving cargo in terms of the peak season is more time-consuming and often results in delays. Traffic jams are strongly connected with shipping season specifics as well as weather fluctuations. While organizing the healthcare logistics process, please try to forecast possible circumstances that can make changes to your shipping plan. 

How much does shipping medical supplies cost?

The costs of healthcare shipments vary according to all the criteria they are based on. You have to count the distance, duration, size of your cargo, and the truck service you’ve chosen. Apparently, the healthcare industry is comparatively expensive to ship due to the high prices of its products and special reefer services recommended for moving medical supplies. However, with advanced planning and preliminary calculations, it is possible to remain cost-effective. With GoShip, you can compare quotes from multiple carriers in a matter of a few clicks.

Healthcare Supply Chain with GoShip.com

The best way to calculate healthcare logistics costs is to fill in shipment information and compare quotes. With GoShip.com, you can compare quotes from multiple carriers in real-time.