Network Provides Built-In Monitoring and Control

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2016-05-20 Email Print this article Print
Global communications network

ASD Healthcare, a major pharmaceutical wholesaler, builds a global communications network to enable remote monitoring and boost the collection of critical data.

One of the biggest and most pressing problems for pharmaceutical companies and health care providers is monitoring medicine to ensure that it's stored correctly. For a growing number of drugs—particularly advanced biologics—temperature and other factors can diminish or destroy the efficacy of the product and directly impact patient health and welfare.

This issue is critical for ASD Healthcare, a subsidiary of AmerisourceBergen, a major specialty distributor of oncology and supportive care drugs to health systems and specialty pharmacies. The company and its subsidiaries transport sensitive critical-care medications to facilities around the world. Its products are sold or distributed to more than 95 percent of hospitals and over 80 percent of retail pharmacies in the United States.

"Specialty drugs, which include oncology medications and expensive specialty pharmaceuticals, must be maintained within strict parameters to ensure drug integrity," says Christopher Flori, vice president of business innovation.

Yet, the challenges don't stop there. Patient adherence and monitoring also enter into the equation for certain medications and medical conditions.

"Because we deal with specialized disease states and have a very close connection to a specialty pharmacy, the health care provider and the patient, we know data is crucial," Flori says. "Appropriate data aligns with our overall goal, which is to positively impact a patient's life by helping our partners streamline administrative functions." These data requirements extend to areas such as disease care management in health care facility settings and in patients' homes.

Implementing a Machine-to-Machine Strategy

As a result, ASD Healthcare implemented a machine-to-machine (M2M) communications strategy that takes data gathering to a new and better level. Through the growing use of sensors in remote monitoring devices, including refrigeration units used in hospitals and patient homes, the company is able to ensure that key criteria and thresholds—such as regulatory and compliance standards—are met on a consistent basis, while improving medication adherence capabilities.

The glue that holds the strategy together is a cellular communications infrastructure powered by Vodafone M2M. ASD Healthcare turned to the telecom provider about two years ago to create a global framework.

"One of the key considerations is that we cannot afford to experience failures that compromise data integrity and patient safety," Flori explains.

Each device the company manufacturers or uses—from hospital trays to large-scale refrigerators—is equipped with cellular connectivity. The Vodafone network is used in instances where cellular communication is necessary. If any disruption occurs in cellular communications, data is resent until confirmation is received. Other key considerations include security and the need for the technology to work globally, including in obscure and rural areas with less-than-robust cellular networks.

The Vodafone network, which supports real-time communications and provides built-in monitoring and control features, has helped ASD Healthcare meet key objectives as it has transitioned to digital business. For instance, RFID-enabled refrigeration units, which are used to automate medication inventory, display real-time temperature data.

If a problem or failure occurs, the company or the health care provider (or both) receives an alert immediately. This allows the appropriate party—or multiple parties—to fix the problem or pull the medication. The units are equipped to resend missing packets of data until they reach the final destination.

In other cases, pharmacists can view how patients utilize medications at home. "Health care providers, especially specialty pharmacists, understand the cadence of usage, and our solution helps pharmacists and doctors perform accurate and timely refills," Flori notes.

"All of this makes data and treatment far more actionable. Patients' lives are at stake, which puts safety and security in the center of our equation."

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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