What are the key challenges associated with the digitalisation of pharmaceutical distribution?

We shed some light on the topic from four different viewpoints.

The process of distributing pharmaceuticals to pharmacies is already fully digitised. However, even more possibilities, opportunities, risks, and needs are set to arise both now and in the future.Brunu RüeggPharmacist, APODRO pharmacies and chemist’s shops (CH)

On the one hand, the major challenges will be of a technical nature – but they will certainly also impact the people who work with digitalisation and who actively use the many opportunities it offers every day. We can expect rationalisation that is almost unimaginable, and what was once the preserve of the big pharmaceutical logistics companies will be possible in every pharmacy and chemist’s shop. Automated processes, the shortest possible routes, artificial intelligence, and permanent optimisations will become the norm, and those few people who work with optimised infrastructure solutions will be heavily demanded and involved.

Digitalisation will open up new avenues that nobody has even asked for yet.
With digital support, new requirements regarding availability, treatment compliance, ordering processes, and the optimum administration of medication will become standard for every drug therapy.

The availability of pharmaceuticals at every location will be guaranteed. Processes for billing, invoicing through social security systems, controlling, and monitoring drug therapies will be handled in the background at any time by digital gadgets. Digitalisation will become part of our everyday routine and discussed less and less. Eventually, people will stop being the most important factor in pharmaceutical distribution."


From my point of view, there are at least three major challenges ahead for the players in the pharma supply chain – which, by the way, are challenges for some and great opportunities for others.Henrik KaastrupManaging Director, Nomeco A/S, Copenhagen (DK)

Nevertheless, the first issue I would like to mention is data security. There is no doubt that data is king, now and in the future. Since both the amount of data and its level of detail is growing rapidly, so will the ability to use data in totally new ways using machine learning and artificial intelligence. We therefore need to make sure that security, compliance, and governance is sufficient to protect parties against misuse.

The second issue I would like to draw attention to is standardisation – in the broadest sense of the word. Obviously, it is no longer sufficient just to make sure that data can travel seamlessly between systems from a technical point of view throughout the supply chain. I feel strongly that we need to spend more time creating a common understanding of the quantitative conclusions and lessons learned from the data we are already sharing in the supply chain.

Finally, I expect to see numerous examples of new business models and companies that will try to make new digital versions of existing analogue processes in healthcare and in the supply chain. Many will probably fail, but others may succeed. Personally, I expect to spend more time in the future learning from those who fail and succeed."

Digital transformation and growing customer requirements define the role of the pharmacist. The traditional primary care provider in the community is now also a health coach and “translator” of medical information.Ulrich SchaeferPharmacist, Managing Director of HCI Solutions, and board member at the pharmaSuisse pharmacy association (CH)

Customers and patients are becoming more and more familiar with smart products. They also expect digitised services and want simple and secure access to their medical records. As health professionals, pharmacists are called upon to provide user-friendly solutions and to offer the relevant expertise. Not just in local pharmacies but also at any time – online, click & collect, mobile anywhere. Pharmacies are becoming POMMEs - points of meeting and mobility experience.

pharmaSuisse helps its members prepare for digital trends and increasing requirements. The focus is always on improving quality of life for customers and patients. Pharmacists want to ensure familiar, straightforward access to health information online too. That is why pharmaSuisse is steadily pressing ahead with seamless interprofessional cooperation, primarily for issuing medication but also for much more. Pharmacists want to remain essential players in coordinated primary care as well as in the digital healthcare market. Of course, we will still need to overcome tough challenges – such as a new definition for value creation. Tomorrow’s pharmacists will know how to operate sustainably in the conflicting environment between the regulated healthcare market and the profession’s growing customer focus."

In the Swiss health system, electronic data interchange (EDI) technology already processes thousands of electronic orders for medicines or medical products every day. This technology benefits all parties concerned as long as these are genuinely uninterrupted digital processes that cover the entire ordering and logistics chain.Erwin ZetzSenior Management Consultant Healthcare at GS1 Consulting - process optimisation for the health system (CH)

In addition to conventional electronic orders, these processes also incorporate feedback documents, such an electronic delivery note (DESADV), the identification of a logistics unit using a serial shipping container code (SSCC), and an electronic invoice based on global GS1 standards.

In Switzerland, however, there are hardly any genuinely uninterrupted end-to-end supply chain processes that cover all the documents mentioned above. The serialisation of medicines now offers the opportunity to fill these gaps, thereby not only making the medicine supply chain more secure, but also digitising it in full.

Pharmaceutical companies are already obliged to aggregate serial numbers and give logistics units unique identifiers in order to comply with legal requirements in the United States or Turkey, for example. In these markets, the “Track&Trace” system for medicines is required by law. These demands can only be met efficiently using global standards such as the GS1 DataMatrix barcode and the GS1 EDI standards referred to above. In general, many manufacturers can also provide processes based on GS1 supply chain standards in Switzerland. Once these processes have been implemented, they can also be used to process orders for medical products.

The legal requirements for serialisation to protect patients from counterfeit drugs in the European Union (EU Falsified Medicines Directive), which have thus far been implemented on a voluntary basis in Switzerland, constitute a solid framework for the ongoing digitalisation of the supply chain in the health system. This will enable various advances including simpler traceability down to the patient, improved forecasting, and greater efficiency when receiving incoming goods."