Data secrecy and outdated tech exacerbating drug shortages

Across the pharmaceutical industry, inherent conservatism and secrecy act as a check against the adoption of new technologies and more open ways of working. In many areas this just means inefficient methods linger, but as CIO reports, it also puts patient safety at risk.

The supply chain suffers some of most severe consequences of pharma lagging behind the pace of technological advancement. In a deep dive into the state of the supply chain, CIO finds pharma relies on outdated technology. An unwillingness to share information exacerbates matters. Failings of the current situation are writ large in the spate of drug shortages. Manufacturers must tell FDA about a potential shortage, but a failure to communicate with business partners means hospitals often only find out by monitoring regulatory alerts.

Panic buying can follow news of a potential shortage, making the problem worse. Drug distributor Cardinal Health is trying to improve things by using predictive analytics tools like open-source R software and packages from SAS Institute to lessen the impact of drug shortages. Predictions are only as good as the underlying data though, and Cardinal faces a battle to get the information it needs. "Some of our suppliers are more advanced than others when it comes to providing accurate, timely information about manufacturing and other product availability issues," Cardinal VP of inventory management Andy Keller told CIO. The system can only fulfill its potential if pharma manufacturers are willing to share data on supply chain issues.

Cardinal is trying to make the most of the information manufacturers currently share by combining it with internal data and feedback from customers. If there is a surge in demand for a certain drug, for example, customers could believe a shortage is approaching. Cardinal can then look at other data sources to build a picture of the severity and timing of the shortage. If necessary, a search for alternative supplies can begin earlier, helping Cardinal mitigate the shortage. 

- here's the CIO feature
- check out the accompanying blog