Though healthcare needs have undoubtedly increased globally, the medical devices industry continues to be impacted by the disruptions resulting from the pandemic.
No issue was more widespread than the unprecedented supply chain disruptions, which can result in increased costs, potential safety issues, and concerns around device and cybersecurity, to name a few.
As an industry still attempting to find stability, there has never been a more critical time to acknowledge the current supply chain issues and consider the risks (and their impact) moving forward.
What factors are influencing the risk outlook for the medical devices supply chain in 2023, and how are these challenges impacting the wider industry?
It would be impossible to talk about the risk outlook for the medical supply chain without first acknowledging its complexity and how this has a knock-on effect on disruptions.
Supply chains require demand planning and forecasting, visibility, traceability, and documentation to ensure compliance.
All of this is also reliant on suppliers and their manufacturing network and the logistics involved, not to mention the impact of unforeseen or sudden events that can render the demand planning and forecasting elements null and void.
Add in the element of volatility as it relates to demand and the shift to more personalised approaches to healthcare, and the evolving needs from a patient, stakeholder, and even regulatory perspective are always in flux.
As an industry that is committed to (and reliant on) continual development, challenges are a natural part of the evolution of the medical device supply chain.
Many of the materials commonly used in the production of medical devices, including alloys and metals (e.g. titanium), have become scarce from a supply perspective due to multiple factors.
Energy crises, for example, are contributing to issues around the production, assembly, delivery, and storage of medical technologies, whilst also disrupting the continuous supply of raw materials to the medical devices industry.
Other factors such as geopolitical volatility are equally hindering the supply of materials, at a time when demand is high – dependency on the production of materials in specific locations has meant that there is now high uncertainty around the supply of critical raw materials.
Medical device manufacturers are also contending with low semiconductor chip inventory levels, with many medical device manufacturers resorting to brokers for supply due to difficulties engaging suppliers directly.
It is likely that many companies will have to consider alternative sources for many of the critical raw materials they need due to the continuing fluctuations in supply and demand.
Many industries are still dealing with the ripple effect of labour shortages as a result of the pandemic.
For the medical devices industry in particular, the changing trends in the hiring market and demands of the workforce have been particularly challenging.
The first and most prominent of these recruitment challenges is the desire of those in the industry to shift to remote working.
Unlike many of the industries that have been able to sustain the majority of their workforce operating under hybrid or remote working models since the pandemic shift, the medical devices industry has struggled to keep these opportunities available.
Though many medical devices businesses have opted to accommodate remote working where possible, there are larger recruitment challenges arising, such as the high demand and low supply of skilled technicians.
This makes the need for a strong employee benefits offering even more essential for medical devices companies as a means to combat talent scarcity and high competition – there’s never been a more critical time for medical devices companies to focus on recruitment.
(We’ve spoken more in a previous blog post abouthow the medical devices industry is facing the digital skills shortage.)
Cybersecurity has long been a concern of the medical devices industry.
Reducing vulnerabilities in healthcare infrastructure is a key priority, but it hasn’t been easy for the industry to adapt to the challenge.
Given the sheer amount of confidential patient data available, it is unsurprising that the medical devices industry and healthcare at large have concerns about the security of their data.
Greater reliance on digital technology will only increase these risks if action isn’t taken to resolve the issue – the lifecycle of each medical device will, after all, vary due to the vulnerability of each supplier involved in the security of each product.
Some of the most prominent medical devices – MRI machines, medication pumps and heart rate monitors, for example – are operating on outdated operating systems that present significant risks due to vulnerable security.
One key change likely to occur in the industry is the effort to integrate cybersecurity plans in both the early stages of development and to maintain security throughout the device lifecycle.
Going beyond compliance and having a proactive approach to identifying potential cybersecurity risks and addressing vulnerabilities will be critical to the medical devices supply chain outlook, as the industry will struggle to keep up with technological innovation without this approach.
From the pandemic to rapid technological advancement, the medical devices supply chain has been contending with a significant list of challenges that require action.
One of the most valuable shifts the industry could make to meet these challenges is to view technology as a tool for innovation, rather than a barrier to overcome.
To best embrace technological changes, medical devices companies should ensure that they are attracting skilled employees and evolving their retention strategy during such a critical period.
Additionally, shortages in the industry should be monitored to avoid instability in the supply of materials by taking any opportunities for cooperative buying.
Cybersecurity will continue to pose challenges unless patient data security is treated as a priority by putting in place proactive protocols, rather than relying on regulations that can often outline the bare minimum from a security perspective.
In other words, as long as the industry adapts to the changes that have impacted it since the pandemic, it can also evolve.
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