Blockchain Tech Could Track Pharmacy Supply Chain


A technology called blockchain could give pharmacies the ability to securely track pharmaceuticals and protect privacy.

A study released by the IEEE Standards Assocation (IEEE-SA) examined the barriers and benefits of adopting blockchain technology for securing and optimizing the pharmaceutical supply chain.

Blockchain is a decentralized platform that distributes and verifies shared data with trusted partners in secure, tamper-proof environment. This technology is the underlying distributed ledger system that enables peer-to-peer transactions of information in a secure manner.

Maria Palombini, Director, Initiative and Community Development, Global Business and Strategic Initiatives for IEEE-SA, said that their recent research has looked at the application of blockchain technology to optimize secure operations in the pharmaceutical supply chain.

“Global pharmaceutical supply chains are complex, siloed, and operate with legacy platforms that do not easily enable collaboration amongst the many partners, compliance with regulatory guidance, and cannot guarantee the security of the distribution of medicine,” Palombini told Drug Topics.

She added that there has been a reliance on policy to combat the counterfeit/fake medicine market. Yet, despite these attempts, Palombini noted that sale of fake medicines is rising rapidly and is considered a global epidemic.

Related article: Pharmacy Supply Lines Are Still Shaking After Storm Passes

WHO, according to Palombini, has had difficulty in assessing the impact of the counterfeit medicine market. It is estimated that 10% to 30% of drugs are counterfeit in the global market, with the upper end of that range predominantly in emerging regions.

“[Community pharmacists] play a vital role in the health-care system and the pharmaceutical supply chain operation through the medicine and information they provide. They are the forward-facing touch point with a patient,” Palombini said.

Pharmacists verify the authenticity, safety, and accuracy of prescription orders and have access to an information-rich patient database with insight on adverse drug reactions, third-party billing information, frequency of refill, and more; processes that could be managed using blockchain technology.

“This critical information currently resides in a siloed database and most often does not get shared back with the other trading partners (i.e., manufacturers or wholesalers) for various reasons, including the inability for existing legacy platforms to enable data sharing while maintaining patient data privacy,” Palombini said.

“Pharmacists hold a vital asset in the critical triangle of U.S. pharmaceutical medicine distribution: they have the prescription, patient, and drug data in their repositories that is highly valuable to the other partners.”

Blockchain enables that data sharing capability without sacrifcing privacy while offering pharmacists the ability to  verify the source of the medicine.

“Blockchain could provide community pharmacists the opportunity to enhance patient safety by verifying the source of drugs, better manage inventory to avoid outcomes of drug shortages, and participate in a more efficient drug recall process when it occurs,” Palombini said.

Blockchain technology, with its ability to distribute, verify, secure, and manage data transactions on a decentralized system, could enable the following opportunities in the pharmaceutical supply chain:

  • Enable collaboration with trading partners by sharing and verifying data transactions with anonymity in a tamper-proof environment

  • Enable compliance with the FDA’s Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) and other regional regulatory track and trace guidelines

  • Eliminate opportunistic gaps that enable the proliferation of the growing counterfeit medicine market

  • Limit and/or  eradicate nonregulated internet pharmacies

  • Better inventory management and control allowing for a more proactive approach  in minimizing drug shortages

  • Enable a more efficient process for drug recalls

  • Provide visibility for all partners to verify a drug’s source by accessing one  original source record  that is time-stamped and cannot be changed, with each new transaction appended to the original source
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