Healthcare / Pharmaceutical

Software applications relating to the healthcare supply chain which promote the effective management of supply chain resources.

Medical couriers is a booming new logistics market

30-Aug-2013
Medical couriers is a booming new logistics market
News that a major courier business has launched a specialist healthcare transportation division, to focus on providing secure courier services for medical products and medicines, is a clear indicator that this is a fast growing sector. Medical couriers are responsible for transporting anything from prescription medicine and vaccines to emergency blood samples and vital organs needed for surgery. Deliveries must be completed safely and efficiently, in some instances in highly controlled temperature conditions, and always with a guarantee of the shortest possible timeframe. The importance of having an efficient transportation process is highlighted by recent research undertaken by the National Patient Safety Agency, which identified transport issues as one of the most common causes of patient safety incidents in pathology*.

According to TNT, industry analysts are predicting that medical transportation services are set to expand by 12% in the next few years. For courier companies looking to identify a secure longer term revenue stream, it represents a very secure option. E-commerce might be booming now, but retail sales typically fluctuate wildly compared with the constant need for medical transportation. Taking into account the UK’s aging population and expected birth rate rises over the next two decades, medical courier services is a very good business to be in.

In addition to stable and growing demand, increasing numbers of primary healthcare providers – NHS Trusts and hospitals in particular – are outsourcing the provision of transportation services to specialists and instead focusing on patient care as a priority. This is because of increasing pressures on cost reduction within the NHS leading to strategies to outsourcing all aspects of NHS service provision. In turn, this is increasing the numbers of medical couriers in operation in addition to other service providers.

Entry into the medical courier sector is not as straightforward as with other industries. They are required to comply with a strict set of industry regulations, which are essential to safeguard the interests of consumers. This regulation comes from within the industry itself and the end customer – hospitals and medical surgeries - have an expectation that medical transportation providers will adhere to safety requirements and have undergone specialist training.

For example, medical couriers should comply with specific Clinical Pathology Accreditation (CPA) laboratory pathology regulations. These include the Blood Quality and Safety Regulations and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency's (MHRA) guidelines for movement of finished product bloods. In addition to this, any packaging provided by the courier company for the distribution of samples - e.g. blood, urine, or cell samples - should be UN3373 compliant. This standard specifies that packaging must be secure, in a pressure tested secondary container, outer box, absorbent sachet and sealed in a tamper-proof mailing envelope. Working in this way ensures samples are protected and that potential problems from leakages can be minimised.

In addition to regulatory compliance, medical couriers are required to undergo specialist GMP (good manufacturing practice) training, which is certified by the WHO (World Health Organisation). Once a courier has completed training at this level, they will understand the importance of the consignments they are responsible for transporting and the implications of non-compliance with minimum time, quality and safety standards.

A key tool in the medical courier’s armoury is technology and feedback from those already offering logistics services in this area verifies this. According to one company’s reports, when vetting prospective suppliers, the area its customers are most concerned with validating is the technology infrastructure behind services being provided. Customers want to know whether their samples can be booked in online and tracked in real-time from pick up to destination. They also want to be able to prove that a delivery has taken place and to run reports showing any variance between estimated and actual delivery times. Real-time data capture is critical for medical courier companies, to be able to identify what a driver is doing in real-time and therefore have the ability to schedule job allocations more efficiently. Mistakes can mean the difference between life and death for a patient and being able to capture data automatically not only reduces paperwork and admin, it eliminates the incidence of errors.

For pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and laboratories looking for a medical courier, there are a number of pre-requisites to evaluate from a potential provider. The following are essential requirements:

• Service reliability and the ability to demonstrate a strong track record of reliability, with reports showing the achievement of relevant KPIs (key performance indicators)

• Evidence to prove that the integrity of consignments being carried is maintained

• Ability for customers using the service to independently track parcels from start to finish with an audit trail in real-time

• Evidence drivers working for a medical courier firm have been GMP trained to a certain standard and adhere to minimum regulatory requirements.

When times are tough, the businesses that survive are the ones able to continually innovate and re-invent themselves. Couriers are no exception and the increasing numbers of medical couriers in operation are providing ever more essential services for their communities.

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