Hospitals are juggling multiple tasks when it comes to managing their medication inventory. In the midst of a pandemic, visibility and interoperability have never been more critical.

Drug shortages have been an obstacle in the industry for years, in addition to the need for reliable tracking methods for drugs within the hospital pharmacy from manufacturer to patient use. According to Kit Check’s annual Hospital Pharmacy Operations Report1, medications on shortage are a top challenge facing pharmacy personnel, with nearly 30% of survey respondents indicating this is the most significant issue in the pharmacy setting.

Further, approximately 60% of pharmacy staff reported dealing with up to 20 medications on shortage at a time, and nearly 30% deal with more than 20 shortages at a time, highlighting how universal this issue is across hospital pharmacies.

This challenge continues to play out as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases resurge around the United States with intubation-related drugs, such as propofol.2 Even before the global COVID-19 crisis, clinicians have had to act as de facto supply chain experts to keep their hospitals stocked with the medications that patients need. Although the 21st century has modernized many parts of the hospital pharmacy, there is still work to be done on the medical intelligence front, especially as the health care industry unites to combat the current pandemic.

The Undeniable Impact of COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has significantly disrupted the global pharmaceutical supply chain, which is heavily reliant on China and India.3 Countries that provide key raw materials for drug production have implemented restrictions and precautions of drugs, with some prohibiting the exportation of drugs to stop the spread of the virus.4 Still, US hospitals continue to feel the pandemic’s effect and the exacerbation of a fragile supply situation.

Thankfully, there are several ways that stakeholders throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain are utilizing technology to help combat these issues. Two examples include medication intelligence and increased interoperability.

The Need for Medication Intelligence
Knowledge is power, therefore it is imperative for hospital pharmacists to have full visibility into their medication inventory from the moment the drug is checked into inventory through its administration to the patient. In order to effectively manage these medications, pharmacists need to know where these drugs are going, how and why they are being administered to patients, and when they are in danger of running out. Artificial intelligence (AI) and radio frequency identification device (RFID) software solutions can help fully automate shipping, receiving, restocking, inventory management, and anomalous usage of controlled and non-controlled medications.

Furthermore, AI and RFID tools can provide predictive insights that are impactful in pandemic situations where shortages and potential drug diversion abound when implemented effectively. Item-level medication tracking can help those on the frontline of the pandemic, such as hospital pharmacists, nurses, and pharmacy techs, by tracking medication from manufacturer to patient, alerting hospital staff when levels of a specific drug are extremely low, and organizing rationing plans for those most in need.

This heightened level of medication intelligence equips all players in the pharmaceutical supply chain with the knowledge they need to make data-informed decisions that protect and treat patients effectively.  

Although drug manufacturers are not required by the FDA to disclose the reason for shortages, RFID scanning tools can keep inventory numbers organized and accurate, allowing for easy allocation to the patients who need the medications on shortage the most.

For example, AI and RFID tools include:
  • Valuable insights into medication inventory and usage data.
  • Automated expiration date confirmation to ensure medications don’t get thrown away prematurely.
  • Tools for optimal distribution of medications to balance supply and demand.
However, it is crucial to this process to ensure that RFID tagging and medication tracking is streamlined throughout the supply chain, from manufacturer to patient administration, to create an easier process for frontline workers.

Organizations such as DoseID, the first industry consortium for the use RFID technology in the health care space, are working with various stakeholders to ensure the quality, performance, and interoperability of RFID-tagged products.5

During a time of crisis, frontline health care providers need technology that is both reliable and configurable to support them. When it comes to ensuring that patients receive the medication they need to heal or remain healthy, the need has never been more critical. AI and RFID solutions can help providers keep inventory and chain of custody in order and error-free during this unprecedented, ever-changing time.
 
Kevin MacDonald is the CEO and co-founder of Kit Check and has worked across global supply chains in aerospace, retail and pharmaceuticals utilizing RFID and cloud software technologies for more than 20 years. Kit Check's AI solution has been recognized by leading analyst firm KLAS Research as Category Leader in Drug Diversion Monitoring.


REFERENCES
  1. Hospital Pharmacy Operations Report. KitCheck. Published 2019. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://kitcheck.com/learn-more/research-reports/hospital-pharmacy-operations-report/
  2. Report details COVID-19 drug shortages- and solutions. University of Minnesota. Published October 21, 2020. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/10/report-details-covid-19-drug-shortages-and-solutions
  3. Manufacturing, Supply Chain, and Drug and Biological Product Inspections During COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Questions and Answers. FDA. Published August 2020. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/regulatory-information/search-fda-guidance-documents/manufacturing-supply-chain-and-drug-and-biological-product-inspections-during-covid-19-public-health.
  4. India bans all exports of virus drugs often touted by Trump. Bloomberg. Published April 5, 2020. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-05/india-bans-all-exports-of-trump-s-game-changer-virus-drug 
  5. Introducing DoseID. DoseID. Published 2020. Accessed November 18, 2020. https://doseid.com/