Accurate, audited and secure: how blockchain could strengthen the pharmaceutical supply chain

09 January 2018

In the second of a series of blogs looking at how blockchain can transform healthcare systems and patient care we explain how the current pharmaceutical supply chain can be improved.

Trust is a fundamental necessity when it comes to medication. For a patient to consume a medication they need to trust that it is in the best interest of their health and is manufactured and supplied to them in accordance with the agreed standards and quality. A pharmacist must trust that the medicines they are selling are purchased from a reputable source where appropriate distribution processes are followed and that the medicines on receipt are fit for purpose. For this they must rely on the manufacturer, wholesaler and courier to have the appropriate procedures and quality standards in place. However, there are many challenges in operating a compliant, high quality pharmaceutical supply chain and there is an increasing demand from all “customers” along the supply chain for transparency to bridge this trust gap.

Patients are already more aware of potential threats to supply chain. The horsemeat scandal of 2013 highlighted to the public the lack of transparency in what they are purchasing and consuming. With an ever increasing counterfeit medicine market, and cases of medication being labelled incorrectly, supply chain becomes an issue for everyone from manufacture, health professional and patient.

Safety features for medicines, due to come into force in 2019, have made the pharmaceutical industry look for new controls to drive visibility and control along the value chain to address both traceability and also the major health and trust threat posed by counterfeit product.  The Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) has created a pan-European system that can ensure that drugs are authentic. It will once implemented relieve some of the pressures the industry is facing but, still, it cannot show if storage conditions have been compromised. Security and integrity of data remains an issue especially in light of the recent cyber security attacks.

With a blockchain solution these issues would be addressed. At every stage of the process, barcodes or smart tags could be scanned and recorded onto a blockchain ledger system which would record and create an audit trail of the drug journey from excipient through to packaged product. This would be visible to all authorised parties in real-time. This shared audit trail would mean that the pharmacist or patient could immediately tell if the drug had been compromised at any point in its journey and choose whether to accept or reject it. 

Pills

Additionally there would be huge benefits for stock management. Whenever a drug is dispensed the stock levels would automatically be updated on the ledger allowing drugs to be re-ordered before they run low. This would reduce wastage as well as the amount of time spent monitoring stock. Biometric measures could also be used to record the pharmacist checking the prescription, through to patient administration.  With all of this information recorded onto the ledger, drugs would be tracked from the moment of creation to the moment the patient takes the drug home.

The information on the system can be totally trusted as the security of data would be immutable. This would prevent malicious parties from altering drug information and makes the addition of counterfeit drugs to the supply chain far less likely. The blockchain also benefits any drug recall as, specific “time stamped” batches identified with as compromised drugs could be targeted rather than having a mass recall.  This is critically important as the industry moves away from bath to continuous processing.  Information systems would also hold expiry date details which could improve stock control and rotation and sensors could be incorporated into the system, with temperature or humidity being recorded onto the ledger system, which could help with drugs requiring fridge storage, such as insulin or expensive specially manufactured medicines.

Through the use of blockchain, the drug journey could become more secure, transparent and streamlined. Every checkpoint involving the drug would be recorded and traced via biometric measures, 2d or 3d barcode scans or sensor technology. As the drug would be tracked from creation to patient, the whole of the drug journey has the potential to be seamless, accurate, audited and secure. The pharmacist will trust that the drug they are providing the patient is of the highest quality and has not been damaged or de-natured. The patient will take comfort in the knowledge that the supply chain has been recorded at every stage and the drug is authentic.

We believe in a pharmaceutical supply chain that offers better visibility, better efficiency, reduced fraud and more importantly, a safer and more reliable health service for all involved. 

Look out for further blogs on how blockchain can make a difference in healthcare or download our latest report on how blockchain could strengthen the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Ailis Mone

Ailis Mone | Technology Consultant
Profile | Email | +44 (0)7718 978 766
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