Turning a Spotlight on Healthcare

With over 25% of healthcare products being temperature sensitive, the importance of efficient, effective and compliant healthcare cold-chain logistics cannot be underestimated.
Learn about the healthcare industry and logistics

By David L. Cunningham Jr., Chief Operating Officer and President, International, FedEx Express

On a clear Pacific evening a few years ago, a fully laden FedEx plane winged its way from the US to Taiwan overnight. Inside one of the many shipments on board was a precious item – a pacemaker destined for a major hospital in Taipei.

It wasn’t just a delivery. It was a life saving connection. For doctors and a critically ill heart patient, a device made half way around the world, and delivered in just one night, helped save his life.

Today, the possibilities are even greater. Spine tingling, in fact.

Life saving human tissue is being sent to almost any part of the globe. Medicines never before available – including at a freezing minus 150 degrees Celsius – are being transported across oceans and continents. Our famous FedEx vans are not just carrying high value medicines or carefully refrigerated insulin – they are carrying temperature-sensitive clinical trial materials, and other sensitive biomaterials.

The reality is that today’s healthcare shipments are as varied as modern medicine itself. And nowhere has that change been more profound than in cold chain logistics.

It’s estimated that today, 25% of all healthcare products are temperature sensitive. By the year 2016, more than half of the top 50 best-selling drugs are likely to require temperature sensitive transport.

Asia Pacific is leading the charge, with the region expected to account for 30% of the global healthcare cold chain logistics market in coming years.

But how do you manage such huge growth and execute that sort of vision in a region that is so diverse? How do you translate the globalization of healthcare into effective, successful, supply chains? What about security? Product integrity? Efficiency and visibility?

This is the common problem today. The supply and demand of healthcare goods are increasingly more global – healthcare is a nearly $3 trillion sector – but security, quality, safety and compliance issues are also on the rise.

There are three ways we should tackle these questions.

First, understand that healthcare supply chains must become considerably more sophisticated. Despite advancements in technology, many medical products are being shipped in the same way they were 30 years ago.

Along with more unique needs like temperature control, light sensitivity and humidity, healthcare delivery must also be economically viable – meeting basic needs like cost, speed, reliability and security, to name a few.

At FedEx, we’ve invested in our portfolio of healthcare related services in recent years to meet these needs, and enable businesses to grow and reach new markets.

For instance, when our new FedEx North Pacific Hub in Osaka, Japan, opens in spring, the facility will feature temperature and humidity controlled spaces. We are also adding cold storage in a number of other locations, including Shanghai and Singapore, and recently broke ground on a new, state-of-the-art cold storage facility at our Memphis, US hub.

Second, focus on visibility. Highly tuned sensors today allow partners across the supply chain to have near real-time information about shipments, including temperature.

The exciting thing about these technologies is the power it gives to customers. For instance, FedEx ShipmentWatch, introduced late last year in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, uses the SenseAware® application to provide information on temperature, light exposure, humidity, barometric pressure and shock.

Three, be on top of regulatory changes.

The increased sophistication of goods and materials in the healthcare sector has resulted in regulators requiring even more detailed product and transport information. That means more security, and more inspections. Yet the visual inspection of a life sciences product that is sensitive to heat or light could destroy it.

For that reason, our clearance and regulatory experts are integral to everything we do at FedEx.

Think back to that extremely ill heart patient in Taipei waiting for a pacemaker – critical shipments cannot afford time lost in customs.

People’s lives depend on it.