Why pharmacies are turning to route optimisation

If the pandemic taught pharmaceutical suppliers anything, it’s the need to be prepared for spikes in demand, as well as ensure the right drugs get to the right people on time.

During the pandemic, prescriptions sent in the mail and pharmacy home delivery were noticed to increase sharply. Looking to the future, with the rise of telehealth as an inevitability for healthcare, facing a burgeoning population and often stretched resources, home delivery will likely become standard for all.

What’s more, as people can now access healthcare digitally, it means that the provision of pharmaceutical products can be sourced worldwide, stretching distances of delivery journeys. The global online pharmacy sector is estimated at $32 billion by the end of 2023, according to Statista.

The challenge will be that overwhelming a supply chain, or inadequate delivery service, can have knock-on effects on patients in need of essential prescription medicines who do not receive their medicines on time or at all, which in turn comes back to haunt suppliers and healthcare professionals.

From the warehouse to the doorstep, today’s delivery runs are not simply about getting a package from A to B. Deliveries of pharmaceutical products to a healthcare institution or patient’s door can require multiple interchanges and stops, amongst collections and drop-offs and a lot of handling in between and, in the complexities of a delivery run, there is room for error and items to get lost, or even theft. This is why route optimisation software has become attractive to pharma distributors, because it offers a holistic and fully transparent approach to managing deliveries.

The all-seeing eye in logistics

Route optimisation software has become the heartbeat of modern logistics. It provides a central hub, in the cloud, from which to observe and manage the entire supply chain, in real time. It can plan and report back with last-minute changes, deliver to tight schedules, and record every touchpoint in each package’s journey from the pharmacy or warehouse to the patient.

With a potent mix of AI with predictive capabilities, instantaneous analytics, and GPS tracking, sophisticated cloud-based route optimisation software can ‘literally’ drive efficiencies for pharmacies delivering to surgeries and homes.

The first big advantage is seen in the bottom line. The optimisation part of the software as a service means that costs are continually shaved. The most efficient routes are calculated for multiple drop-offs, whilst tracking and plotting the journeys in real-time. This intelligent path-finding capability means a lot more can be loaded onto each truck for the most feasible amount of delivery slots. In a study by Descartes, it was shown that delivery capacity can be raised by up to 35% without increasing the fleet size. By reducing miles on the road, it also saves on fuel consumption, maintenance, and gets the most ROI from drivers. It’s proven that reducing costs is feasible in all areas of the supply chain, including warehouse and transportation management, and in that usually expensive, last mile of delivery.

Ensuring verification

Another attractive reason to adopt this technology is that it creates an audit trail for medicines in transit. Using mobile devices, it’s possible to scan items that are loaded on a vehicle, making sure they are the right medicines, and no packages are left behind.

The same applies to delivery, where a signature is required at the delivery address. Using ePOD (Electronic Proof of Delivery), the system retains the proof of delivery to the right person, often with a picture of the location or person as further verification. You always know where in the journey the medicines are and who they have ended up with, essentially building a valuable overview of traceability and accountability. Retailers and distributors can view and retain the entire delivery process, including purchase orders, warehouse receipts, stock accounting, and customer details.

Keeping IT real

The system is adaptive to real-time changes and the AI can calculate better routes in a second when unexpected challenges occur on the road. The software plans and reports back rerouting that might be due to roadblocks or congestion and, in more extreme scenarios, GPS tracking safeguards against hijacking. With this level of route monitoring, it’s possible to notify customers of delays and rescheduling, which in turn leads to a reduction of incoming calls from customers wanting to chase orders or complain. Importantly, this protects brand reputations, which may otherwise be damaged. Case studies have seen up to a 50% reduction in incoming queries and complaints concerning late deliveries when using the technology.

There is the added element of technical recommendations via the program. For example, vehicle telematics data is recorded and fed to the system to suggest improvements to optimise future delivery runs and analyse maintenance needs for the vehicle. It will report engine fault codes and diagnostic information, so vehicles aren’t left in poor states of disrepair. It will even advise on making changes when detecting poor driver habits; for example, flagging excessive engine idling or aggressive acceleration, braking, or cornering.

For pharma, route optimisation ticks some important boxes for delivering, reducing the risks associated with sending out sensitive and vital healthcare products.

The industry is increasingly seeing this as not only a key part of the healthcare provision, but also as a business tool that provides cost savings and security as standard.

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