Why Does the U.S. Need to Revamp Their Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

published Aug 23, 2022
2 min read

Every American relies on the pharmaceutical supply chain at some point. Whether it’s a quick trip to an emergency clinic for the flu or an extensive hospital stay, people needing medical treatment don’t always get the care they need when they require it most urgently.

These are a few reasons why the U.S. needs to revamp the pharmaceutical supply chain and why it would be a significant investment in the economy. Although the initial changes would require upfront costs, the long-term benefits would improve the country’s financial and medical standing.

How Does the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Work?

Five steps within the supply chain get healthcare supplies from production to consumers:

  • Manufacturers make pharmaceuticals.
  • They ship those medications or supplies.
  • Companies and pharmacies stock up on those products.
  • Benefit management companies set the prices through negotiations.
  • Consumers receive aid by purchasing pharmaceuticals or using the supplies.

Companies also split their supply chains into upstream and downstream operations for manufacturing clarity. The split separates sourcing and distribution processes but may not always optimize how a company creates and sells products. If sourcing and distribution happen in separate countries, shipping time slows down the manufacturing process and may lead to shortages or other problems for consumers.

Why It Needs Revamping

The pharmaceutical supply chain isn’t perfect because it causes concerns that affect people every day. They could be the primary focus of supply chain modifications since they’re some of the most pressing problems.

People Are Waiting for Medication Shipments

When doctors write prescriptions or order medications for admitted hospital patients, those people may need to wait for help. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently has 114 drugs in shortage, including sedatives for patients on ventilators, cancer treatments, and blood pressure medications.

Bladder cancer patients sometimes have to wait over three months for immunotherapies because the supply chain isn’t producing medications fast enough or keeping them in stock. People shouldn’t have to wait for pain relief or life-saving treatments.

Emergency Departments Need Supplies

Medical professionals sometimes can’t treat patients in hospital emergency rooms due to the ongoing supply shortage problems. They lack intravenous (IV) saline solution packs because manufacturers are lagging behind. Not having essential supplies like IV bags prevents people from accessing healthcare or recovering from low-grade health concerns as quickly as they should.

Hospitals Can’t Help Patients

There’s also a shortage of medical devices, which affects anyone receiving healthcare in hospitals or clinics. The FDA recently added automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and autotransfusion systems to their growing medical device shortage list.

Medical professionals are also relying on refurbished machines because of a lack of semiconductor chips, which power imaging machines and AEDs along with other standard healthcare monitors and devices.

Ways to Improve It

There are always ways to improve supply chain systems, especially within the healthcare industry. These are a few ways to address short-term and long-term challenges with upfront investments.

Companies Should Make Pharmaceutical Ingredients

Research shows that 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) come from overseas. The shipping slows medication manufacturing, so pharmaceutical companies could begin making those ingredients in the U.S. to eliminate shipping delays.

The technology to safely store APIs also already exists, so building a stockpile wouldn’t be an issue. The companies could use desiccant packs to remove moisture that spoils medications and extend their shelf life. Hiring production employees and creating new manufacturing facilities would direct the investments into the U.S. economy and reduce unemployment.

The Federal Government Must Build Stockpiles

The recent pandemic weakened the federal pharmaceutical stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), antibiotics, and medical devices for long-term medical emergencies. The U.S. economy wouldn’t have to pay for costly emergency shipments for in-demand machines or medications if it rebuilt the stockpiles with investments in those much-needed supplies.

Medications Should Have Better Shelf Lives

APIs have a shorter shelf life that could become more extensive with enough funding for research and development. If they lasted longer in storage, patients wouldn’t have delays in care due to a lack of supplies. Hospitals and consumers would also spend less on medications without paying for emergency shipments.

They could reinvest that money into the domestic market in other ways, like upgrading hospital tech or buying consumer goods.

Leaders Must Reconsider the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

Everyone benefits from improvements within the pharmaceutical supply chain, even when those improvements require significant upfront investments. Eliminating medication and supply shortages would make the healthcare system more accessible and efficient, ultimately improving the American quality of life and the economy.

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a manufacturing journalist who regularly covers the industry trends. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. Subscribe to read more from Emily.